Senate Rules Reform ? the Weekly Recap, November 15, 2013

Washington, DC – Earlier this week, Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit – the second time in the past two weeks that Senate Republicans have denied an up-or-down vote on the nomination of a qualified nominee to the DC Circuit and the third highly qualified woman in a row to be blocked by Senate Republicans for a vacant DC Circuit slot. Already, Senate Republicans are pledging to use Senate obstructionist tools to block an up-or-down vote for another nominee to the DC Circuit, Robert Wilkins.

As Fix the Senate Now noted, the Republican strategy of judicial obstruction en masse is unprecedented in American history. If Senate Republicans continue to block an up-or-down vote for these qualified nominees, the Senate Democratic caucus must embrace rules reform.  Elections have consequences, qualified nominees deserve votes, and Senate Republican intransigence cannot be rewarded any longer. Many other voices are lifting up similar themes – the unprecedented nature of the Senate Republicans’ obstruction and the need to re-open the rules reform debate, should this obstruction continue.

See below for this week’s key commentary and analysis:

Senate Voices

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “I’m glad that I’m not the only one out talking about this … We have someone who [has] never, ever been upfront on rules changes — that’s Sen. Leahy, who said he’s really disturbed about what’s going on.”  Additionally, Senator Reid noted, “Senate Republicans seem poised to block consideration of this eminently qualified woman for a blatantly political reason—to deny President Obama his constitutional right to appoint judges.”
  • Senator Tim Kaine: “I'm very open to rules changes because we can't allow laws to be nullified … And so the D.C. Circuit is an example. ... It's kind of an attempt to nullify the law using the filibuster. So we have to explore rules changes."
  • Senator Patrick Leahy: “I’ve been here longer than anybody else serving in the Senate. I’ve always tried to protect the rules in Republican majorities and Democratic majorities, because my experience has been they were used responsibly. Very, very rarely were they used to filibuster. That’s become a thing of the past. I think we’re at the point where there will have to be a rules change.”  Senator Leahy also said, “If the Republican caucus continues to abuse the filibuster rule and obstruct the president's fine nominees to the D.C. Circuit, then I believe ... a rules change should be in order.”
  • Senator Jeff Merkley: “There is, in a democracy, power that goes with the voice of the people. When people elect a president, there are electing him for his nominating powers as well as his management.”
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren: “We need to call out these filibusters for what they are: Naked attempts to nullify the results of the last election … “If Republicans continue to filibuster these highly qualified nominees for no reason other than to nullify the president’s constitutional authority, then senators not only have the right to change the filibuster, senators have a duty to change the filibuster rules. We cannot turn our backs on the Constitution. We cannot abdicate our oath of office.”

Coalition Voices:

  • Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice: “We’re operating in a whole different world now. The filibuster was used only a handful of times by Democrats to register opposition to judicial nominees on merit. Now, judicial nominees are being filibustered for an entirely different reason, and that is solely for the purpose of obstruction, regardless of who the nominee is. This shouldn’t be necessary at all—to call for rules reform—but if Republicans are going to block votes on judicial nominees ... to obstruct, then the Democrats have no choice but to call for Senate floor reforms.”
  • Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America (CWA): “At least 100 other nominations are backed up in some way including three nominations to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and a wide range of executive and judicial branch nominees. President Obama's term is over in three years and many of these nominees agreed to serve nearly one year ago.  Again there is an opportunity for the Senate majority to act like a majority and restore at least some sense of democracy.”
  • Courtney Hight of the Sierra Club: “The truth is the band of shameless extremists in the Senate could not care less about how well-qualified these nominees are. They'll block them from doing their job simply because they and their allies -- like big polluters and other extremists -- are the only ones who benefit from the unprecedented gridlock they've created.”

Outside Observer Voices:

  • Jennifer Bendery in Huffington Post: “Republicans readily admit their opposition to Pillard isn't about her. In fact, they don't really have a problem with any of Obama's picks for the D.C. Circuit, the second most powerful court in the nation. They just don't want him to fill its three vacancies.”
  • Jonathan Bernstein in the Washington Post: “There’s really no choice here. Republicans are demanding something entirely unprecedented and unjustified: that Democrats, despite winning the White House and a comfortable majority in the Senate, cannot fill three seats on this crucial federal bench … All of which means that sooner or later, Democrats will have to draw a line. Indeed, the only way to save the filibuster is to threaten, right now, to get rid of it. And if Republicans don’t back down, as they did this summer? Then the filibuster is going to die, so might as well get it over with.”
  • Brian Beutler in Salon: “But their current position — daring Dems to go all the way nuclear or cave completely — gives Dems almost no choice but to pull the trigger. If Republicans had meritorious objections to any of these nominees, the nuclear threat would be a disproportional escalation. Obama could find other judges. What they’re doing instead is a judicial replay of their unacceptable bid to unilaterally gut Wall Street’s consumer watchdog office and void the National Labor Relations Board. Democrats didn’t stand for that, and won. Republicans caved and confirmed several waylaid executive branch nominees over the course of just a few days. They should run the same play again. And if Republicans don’t fold, they should go nuclear.”
  • Jamelle Bouie in the Daily Beast: “Republicans aren’t concerned with the workload of the court and aren’t defending a particular principle. They simply want to keep Obama from leaving his stamp on the federal judiciary. Democrats have a choice. They can nuke the filibuster and defend the president’s prerogative, or, they can let the GOP establish a new precedent, where the Senate only confirms Republicans nominees.”
  • Scott Lemieux in the American Prospect: “But as with the ‘court-packing’ nonsense, one doubts that even the senators making these silly arguments believe them. This isn't about stopping a particularly extreme nominee from being confirmed—the Republican simply opposes Obama making any further appointments to the D.C. Circuit in principle. Should they persist, Senate Democrats need to blow up the filibuster and allow presidents of both parties to staff the judicial branch.”

For more information or to interview leaders from the Fix the Senate Now coalition, contact Michael Earls at