It may have been “a sad day in the history of the Senate” for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, but for the liberal activists and lawmakers who assembled just off the Senate floor Thursday, the mortal wound Democrats delivered to the filibuster was cause for celebration.

The whooping and cheering began inside Mansfield Room even before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid arrived, and continued as he and his fellow filibuster-slayers strode in triumphantly into room. It was one of two separate raucous standing ovations Reid would receive. “Our heroes have arrived!” announced Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist, who served as emcee for the event—part press conference, part victory rally.

“If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of gridlock breaking and progress coming, because of what these men did today on the floor of the United States Senate,” Begala continued. “It’s a good day for democracy!”

[F]or liberal activists, who have spent the past four years watching their and President Obama’s agenda stymied at every turn by Republican filibusters, the detonation was long overdue. “Congratulations to all the people out there who have been gathering signatures and who have been on this for so long—for so so long,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, who will retire next year after spending more than 20 years fighting the filibuster.

After Senate Democrats triggered the so-called “nuclear option” on Thursday to eliminate the filibuster for executive branch and judicial nominees (save for the Supreme Court), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said the move was a sequel to Obamacare.

“This action today creates a perpetual opportunity for the tyranny of the majority because it permits a majority in this body to do whatever it wants to do any time it wants to do it,” Alexander said during a floor speech. “This should be called Obamacare II, because it is another example of the use of raw partisan political party for the majority to do whatever it wants to do any time it wants to do it.”

The filibuster now exists in what you might call an unstable equilibrium. It theoretically forces a 60-vote threshold on important legislation. But it can — and now, in part, has —been undone with 51 votes. Its only protection was the perceived norm against using the 51-vote option. Democrats just blew that norm apart. The moment one party or the other filibusters a consequential and popular bill, that’s likely the end of the filibuster, permanently

The rise of the filibuster and the death of the filibuster can be traced to the same fundamental cause: Party polarization. Before the two parties became reasonably unified and disciplined ideological combatants, filibusters were rarely used as a tactic of inter-party warfare because each political party had both members who supported and opposed the bills in question. As that era waned, the filibuster became constant because parties could agree on what to oppose. But that’s also why the filibuster’s days were (and are) numbered: The majority party agrees on what to support, and continual filibusters against those items increase the majority party’s anger at the filibuster itself…

With gun control dead, immigration reform on life support and bitter disagreement between the House and Senate proving the norm, it looked like the 113th Congress would be notably inconsequential. Today, it became notably consequential. It has changed how all congresses to come will work. Indeed, this might prove to be one of the most significant congresses in modern times. Today, the political system changed its rules to work more smoothly in an age of sharply polarized parties. If American politics is to avoid collapsing into complete dysfunction in the years to come, more changes like this one will likely be needed.

President Obama and all future presidents have a freer hand today to make both executive and judicial appointments.

The Senate’s historic vote on Tuesday eliminates a rule that until modern times had been used infrequently, and not always fairly. That unfairness, said Democrats, increased to an intolerable level during the Obama administration. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., observed, since the Senate created the filibuster rule in 1917, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominees — and half of them have taken place during the Obama years…

Democrats know they will someday be in the Senate minority, and they will undoubtedly come to rue the day they diminished minority rights. But as one Democrat put it: “The threat we always faced was that Republicans said if we did this, the place would grind to a halt. Well, it’s already at a halt. … This is like threatening to shoot the hostages when they are already dead.”…

Privately Republicans acknowledged that with one or two exceptions, Obama’s judicial nominations have been centrist liberals — often former prosecutors, lower court judges and corporate lawyers. But they said they feared that without the threat of a filibuster, future nominees will tilt hard left.

The filibuster is not sacred writ, and we are on record supporting procedural changes to overcome partisan obstruction. The more serious concern here is that the Democrats are attempting to pack the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit court, with a rogue’s gallery of far-left nominees. That is worrisome in and of itself, but there is a deeper agenda: Much of what President Obama has done in office is of questionable legality and constitutionality. The president no doubt has in mind the sage advice of Roy Cohn: “Don’t tell me what the law is. Tell me who the judge is.” He is attempting to insulate his agenda from legal challenge by installing friendly activists throughout the federal judiciary. That is precisely what he means when he boasts, “We are remaking the courts.” Republicans are in fact obstructing those appointments; unlike the nomination of John Roberts et al., these appointments deserve to be obstructed.

The filibuster is a minor issue; the major issue is that President Obama is engaged in a court-packing scheme to protect his dubious agenda, and Harry Reid’s Senate is conspiring with him to do so. The voters missed their chance to forestall these shenanigans in 2012. They made the wrong decision then, and have a chance to make partial amends in 2014, when they will be deciding not only what sort of Senate they wish to have, but what sort of courts, and what sort of country.

It is true, as Democrats are pointing out, that Mitch McConnell once called for up-or-down votes on judicial nominees. But it is also true that Harry Reid was once a passionate defender of the filibuster. On May 18, 2005, he said:

“The filibuster is far from a ‘procedural gimmick.’ It is part of the fabric of this institution. It was well known in colonial legislatures, and it is an integral part of our country’s 217 years of history…

“The roots of the filibuster can be found in the Constitution and in the Senate rules…

“Mr. President, the filibuster is a critical tool in keeping the majority in check. This central fact has been acknowledged and even praised by Senators from both parties.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid’s claim that Supreme Court nominees are excluded from today’s controversial Senate rules change is a distinction without a difference, judicial conservatives said…

Doug Kendall, of the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center, admits as much in a statement: “To be sure, with the tea party as crazy as it is, it is understandable to have some trepidation about what this rule change could mean in the future.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a floor speech, “Our side will nominate and confirm lower court and Supreme Court nominees with 51 votes, regardless of whether the Democrats actually buy into this fanciful notion that they can demolish the filibuster on lower court nominees and still preserve it for Supreme Court nominees.”

As I understand it, the Reid proposal would eliminate the filibuster for lower-court judges and is designed to lead to the confirmation of the three pending D.C. Circuit nominees. As I’ve long made clear, I’d be happy to see the filibuster abolished for judicial nominees.

I will note, though, that I don’t see how Reid can abolish the filibuster vis-à-vis pending judicial nominees without setting a clear precedent that would enable a future Senate majority, in the very midst of a confirmation battle over a Supreme Court nominee, to abolish the filibuster with respect to that nominee…

It would be funny indeed if folks on the Left who evidently rue Senate Democrats’ opportunistic decision in 2003 to inaugurate the filibuster as a weapon against judicial nominees were now to support an opportunistic rule change that would lay the foundation for making it much easier for a Republican president to appoint anti-Roe Supreme Court nominees.

But before I get to the substantial silver lining, honesty requires me to acknowledge that, in the short term, the nuclear option dealt a blow to those of us fighting to limit the damage Obama does to the courts. The immediate impact will be to turn the D.C. Circuit — often the only check on a president’s executive power — into a rubber stamp for Obama’s unilateral rewriting of statutes, his questionable executive orders, his overreaching agency regulations, and his other Nixonian abuses of executive authority…

And now for the good news: Democrats’ unprecedented use of the nuclear option ensures that judicial nominations — an issue that typically works to the GOP’s advantage — will be a major issue in the 2014 Senate elections and the 2016 presidential election. Now that there are no checks on a president and Senate majority working together to remake the courts, the importance of controlling the Senate and the presidency is magnified for voters who care about abortion, gay marriage, guns, and the other issues that play out in the courts.

The Senate’s red-state Democrats, who can no longer hide behind cloture votes and will now be forced to openly support or oppose Obama’s most radical judicial nominees, have a lot to lose from Reid’s brazen move. It is no coincidence that Senator Mark Pryor (D., Ark.), who is facing a tough reelection fight, voted with Republicans today after facing a barrage of ads tying him to Obama’s worst judicial appointments. Opponents of other red-state Democrats running for reelection next year — Landrieu, Hagan, and Begich for example — will surely take note.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that Democrats would “pay a heavy, heavy price” for changing the Senate rules for judicial and executive nominees.

“They’re governed by the newer members… who have never been in a minority, who are primarily driving this issue,” McCain told reporters after the vote. “They succeeded and they will pay a very, very heavy price for it.”

Via Newsbusters.

Via the Daily Rushbo.