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“Real World Consequences”: Why The Senate’s Nuclear Option On Filibuster Reform Matters

If you care about reproductive rights, the environment or worker rights, the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the chamber’s Democrats – including courageous votes by this state’s senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet – Thursday to reform the filibuster on presidential appointments matters. A lot.

This is not just inside-the-Beltway jabberwocky. Invoking the “nuclear option” so that a simple, 51-vote majority is all that’s needed to confirm judges below the Supreme Court level and other presidential appointments will have a profound effect on the everyday lives of many Americans. Courts are missing judges thanks to an unprecedented refusal by Republicans to confirm the president’s nominees. This is purely political, not about qualifications: as Senate Republicans have bluntly admitted, all Obama nominees are bad.

And this obstruction has real world consequences both in terms of shorthanded courts and the decisions they make.

So, for example, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is located here in Denver and handles all federal court appeals for not only Colorado but also Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, has two vacancies thanks to GOP filibustering. And as Colorado Ethics Watch has noted, 98 percent of all federal appeals are decided at the Circuit Court level, meaning that, “decisions of the 10th Circuit on important issues such as the environment and federal land policy, reproductive freedom, voting rights and money in politics, and civil rights are often final and binding for the states in the Circuit.”

In addition to refusing to act on qualified judges to the 10th Circuit, Republicans have repeatedly blocked qualified judicial nominees to the District of Columbia Circuit Court. Per Ethics Watch, “The D.C. Circuit is a traditional stepping-stone to the U.S. Supreme Court, with four of the current justices having previously sat on the D.C. Circuit. Currently, three of the D.C. Circuit’s 11 judgeships are vacant, including one that has been open since its previous occupant, John Roberts, was confirmed chief justice of the United States in 2005.”

Judicial vacancies and court rulings matter. Without fair courts that have diverse and impartial judges, we won’t have justice when it comes to women’s health and reproductive rights.

To wit, on November 1, with three judicial vacancies thanks to Republican obstruction and no Obama nominees on the bench,  the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception in their health insurance plans violated religious freedom. Denver’s 10th Circuit, with two Republican-blocked vacancies, decided a similar case the same way, setting up a Supreme Court challenge on whether or not women have the right to birth control regardless of their employers’ religious beliefs. This has profound and dangerous implications even beyond reproductive rights: it threatens to upend the very notion of secular labor law. What if an employer decided their religious beliefs meant they didn’t have to pay Social Security taxes, follow wage and hour guidelines, or hire workers of a different race?

So this isn’t some arcane procedural maneuver by the Senate, it’s the end result of the Republican Party refusing to respect a Democratic president. As for the argument from the right that a future Republican majority will use this move against Democrats: Republicans have broken every deal they’ve made so far to avoid the “nuclear option.” There’s little doubt that they’d change the rules anyway if they magically got the majority.

At least this way a Democratic President, Barack Obama, sees that he, his judicial nominees and appointments, and the American people get a bit more justice.


By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, November 22, 2013

November 24, 2013 - Posted by | Filibuster, Republicans | , , , , , ,


  1. Reblogged this on Bell Book Candle.


    Comment by walthe310 | November 24, 2013 | Reply

  2. The filibuster is still alive and well in the US Senate. The nuclear option only eliminated the filibuster of presidential nominees requiring Senate confirmation.

    In 1937, FDR tried to increase the size of the US Supreme Court from 9 to 15 members. He was accused of trying to pack the Court so that it would stop declaring so much of the New Deal as unconstitutional. He was not able to pack the court. The nuclear option was necessary yesterday to stop the GOP attempt to unpack the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the second most important court in the US after the Supreme Court.

    This is what the Republicans were trying to accomplish. Let me use the Supreme Court as an example to make my illustration more easily understandable. The Supreme Court consists of 9 members, 5 conservatives and 4 members of a more liberal persuasion. The GOP position recently has been that a retiring conservative justice must be replaced by another conservative, while a retiring liberal justice need not be replaced, thus reducing the size of the Court. Over time, the Supreme Court would be reduced from 9 members to only 5, all conservative. That’s what I mean by unpacking the Court, the reverse of what FDR tried and failed to accomplish.

    That is what the Republicans have been trying to do with the nation’s second most important court, a court whose decisions are not widely reported in the media, but whose decisions affect all Americans as much or more than the decisions of the Supreme Court. This is what the nuclear option is all about. Don’t be mislead by the GOP noise machine.


    Comment by walthe310 | November 24, 2013 | Reply

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