I was expecting some action out of the new Congress, but I really never saw this one coming. A group of Republican Senators led by Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) are floating the idea of further extending the nuclear option enacted by the Democrats to take filibusters off the table when considering nominees to the Supreme Court. Clearly wiser heads than myself have been able to determine why this is such a great idea, because I’m not seeing it at the moment.
Top Senate Republicans are considering gutting the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees — a move that could yield big rewards for whichever party controls the White House and Senate after 2016.
The move, still in its early stages, reflects growing GOP confidence in its electoral prospects next year. But it could also have a major immediate impact if a justice such as 81-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg steps down, making it far easier for President Barack Obama to get a replacement confirmed…
The 60-vote filibuster threshold would remain for legislation.
The Politico story seems to focus on whether or not they’ll be able to get most of the Republicans to go along with it, and then persuade a sufficient number of Democrats to join them to reach the magic number of 67. Doesn’t that sound just a bit backward? The Democrats are looking at two years in the minority when the President may very well have to nominate a new SCOTUS justice. They should be doing back flips over the idea, since they can often get at least a few Republicans to support a judicial nomination by the President, and they will only need four or five to seal the deal.
I suppose that the analysis from the authors has some merit when they interpret this as a sign of growing GOP confidence in its electoral prospects, but holy moley… that’s a lot of confidence. I wouldn’t say that 2016 is in the bag for the Republicans in any way, shape or form yet. And besides the White House, it’s still entirely possible (though perhaps not likely) that the Democrats could even take back control of the Senate with a big enough Hillary wave. (Again, I’m not saying that will happen, but we would prove that we’ve foolishly learned nothing from recent history if we ruled out the possibility entirely.) If that happens, the Democrats have already demonstrated that they are willing to change the rules as best suits their needs, and they would switch them back and forth on whichever schedule best facilitates their advantage.
If the GOP scraps the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees now, it benefits nobody except Barack Obama and his allies, making if much easier for him to rail through a far more liberal choice than would otherwise be possible. Then, if the GOP manages to lose the White House again and the margin in the Senate remains small, the Democrats will get at least four more years of benefit out of it. If the Republicans do take the White House but somehow lose ground (and control) in the Senate, the Democrats can simply put the filibuster back in place in January of 2017, and what possible evidence of good will exists to suggest that they wouldn’t make such a hypocritical move?
I suppose I’ll wait to hear a more full explanation from Alexander and friends if this proposal actually picks up steam. But for the moment, it just doesn’t make any sense.