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“They Had A Choice”: Did Frustrated Mainstream Republicans Help Pull The Nuclear Trigger?

The big mystery of today’s majority-imposed rules change in the Senate is: What happened to the deal-making Republicans?

There’s nothing much to figure out on the Democratic side. It was clear to most observers that the three-seat blockade of the D.C. Circuit Court was solidly over the line separating Democratic senators’ individual preference for maintaining the filibuster and their party interest in seating a Democratic president’s choices for the federal bench. Democrats believed that they had no choice but to proceed.

Republicans, however, certainly did have a choice. After all, in the short run, they’re clearly worse off by this change than they would be had they used the filibuster far more selectively. That was enough to get them to compromise the last time this happened. So why didn’t they hold back again?

One possibility is that they simply miscalculated, believing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was bluffing. If that was the case, however, they could have backed off at the last second.

A second possibility is that they really wanted to eliminate the filibuster, and that they believed that the cost to the Democrats for pulling the trigger was great enough that it was worth the potential three years of majority-confirmed President Obama nominees. That’s possible, although it’s very hard to believe that voters will care at all, and Republican arguments (court-packing!) did not appear designed to appeal to those who might have been willing to condemn Democrats for a “power-grab.”

So here’s a third possibility. The problem with the summer compromise is that it was horrible for deal-making Republicans. The deal essentially said: Republicans will continue to filibuster nominations, but will supply enough votes for almost all of them so that the filibusters will be defeated. But that meant that in practice a handful of Republicans were forced to tag-team their votes, making sure that Democrats always had 60. What’s more, the shutdown fight — which began right after the Senate deal was struck — revealed that radical Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were eager to scapegoat those same deal-making Republicans. That raised the cost of the executive branch nominations agreement for tag-teamers such as Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). In other words, the summer deal might or might not have been stable, but it certainly couldn’t hold in a world in which the majority of Republican senators are looking for ways to separate themselves from mainstream conservatives, and then using that separation to attack them.

Those deal-making Republicans did have another option; They could have just abandoned the radicals. But over what principle? After all, the situation here is that it’s the radicals, not the mainstream conservatives, who want to hold up all these nominations. One way to look at what happened today is that the deal-makers were getting out of the way and allowing the radicals to lose. If the outcome is the same — Obama’s judicial picks get confirmed — then why should the deal-makers ask for the blame for it?

We don’t know yet, and perhaps we won’t, but my guess is that the way Cruz and other Republican radicals acted during the shutdown is what explains the difference between a successful deal in the summer and today’s nuclear action.


By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Washington Post, November 21, 2013

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Federal Judiciary, Filibuster | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Real Roots Of The Filibuster Crisis”: This Is About Whether Barack Obama Is Legitimately The President Of The United States

We’re about to have ourselves a little filibuster crisis, and the only surprising thing is that it took so long. We’ve now reached a point where Republicans no longer accept that Barack Obama has the right, as president of the United States, to fill judicial vacancies. Unlike in previous battles over judicial nominations, we’re not talking about the nominees’ qualifications or their ideological proclivities. It’s merely a question of the president’s constitutional privileges. Republicans don’t think he has them. This is only the latest feature of a long descent for the GOP away from considering any Democratic president—but particularly this one—as a legitimate holder of the office to which he was elected.

There has never been a president, at least in our lifetimes, whose legitimacy was so frequently questioned in both word and deed by the opposition party and its adherents. Even today, many Republicans, including some members of Congress, refuse to believe that Obama was born in the United States. Right after he was re-elected, 49 percent of Republicans told pollsters they thought ACORN had stolen the election for Obama, a decline of only 3 points from the number that said so after the 2008 election, despite the fact that in the interim, ACORN had gone out of business. Think about that for a moment. How many times have you heard conservatives say that the Affordable Care Act was “rammed through” Congress, as though a year of debate and endless hearings and negotiations, followed by votes in both houses, followed by the president’s signature, was somehow not a legitimate way to pass a law? In short, we’ve seen this again and again: it isn’t just that Republicans consider Obama wrong about policy questions or object to the substance of one or another of his actions, it’s as though they don’t quite accept that he’s the president, and everything he does carries for them the taint of illegitimacy.

If that’s where you’re coming from, it seems perfectly justifiable to upend the norms that have traditionally determined how things work in Washington. One of those norms is that while it’s common to fight against the judicial nominees of a president from the other party, you have to at least have a gripe about each of those nominees. But Republicans are no longer bothering with that. The current argument is about three vacancies on the D.C. Court of Appeals, widely understood as the second most important court in the system, because it deals with many cases concerning government’s powers (four of the nine current Supreme Court justices came there from the D.C. Circuit). Republicans argue that by attempting to fill those vacancies, Obama is engaged in an unconscionable act of “court-packing,” and besides, the D.C. Circuit doesn’t have enough work to do anyway, so the seats should just remain empty.

Until there’s a Republican president, of course! Though they haven’t said so explicitly, here’s a suggestion for Capitol Hill reporters: Next time you’re interviewing a Republican senator who says he’s filibustering these nominations because the D.C. Circuit doesn’t have enough work to do, ask him if he’s willing to make a pledge, right there and on the record, to filibuster any appointment the next Republican president makes to that court. See what he says.

Anyhow, Harry Reid is now threatening to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominees altogether, something he can do with a simple majority vote. But he’ll need to get 50 of the 55 Senate Democrats to vote for it, and there’s a good deal of reluctance to do so, particularly since Democrats won’t be in the majority forever, and whenever they’re back in the minority they’ll want to have the filibuster for themselves. But according to recent reporting by Greg Sargent and others, Reid thinks he has the votes and is just about ready to pull the trigger if Republicans don’t relent on these three nominees.

But the threat of the “nuclear option” of eliminating the filibuster for nominees could be just a negotiating tactic. The outcome Democrats would probably most prefer is what happened the last time we went through this, in 2005. In that case the controversy was over a group of Bush appointees who were true radicals, none more so than Janice Rogers Brown, who calls the New Deal a “socialist revolution” and says things like, “In the heyday of liberal democracy, all roads lead to slavery.” That controversy ended with an agreement in which Bush got his nominees—Brown now sits on the D.C. Circuit—and Democrats promised to use the filibuster only in “extraordinary circumstances.” In other words, it was a complete win for the Republicans. The biggest difference between then and now is that Democrats never questioned whether Bush had the right to fill judicial vacancies; they had specific objections to particular nominees.

In the various flare-ups of the birther controversy, reporters would occasionally ask Republican members of Congress very basic questions, like “Do you think the President was born in the United States?” The answers were incredibly revealing. Some simply said yes, but others hemmed and hawed, saying things like “It’s not my responsibility to tell people what to think” or “I take him at his word,” as though there were still some doubt. It’s time they got asked the same kind of questions about this crisis. If you asked Republicans, “Does Barack Obama have the right to fill judicial vacancies?”, I honestly have no idea what they’d say. But it would be interesting to find out.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 20, 2013

November 21, 2013 Posted by | Federal Judiciary, Filibuster | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“So Much For The Fabric Of Freedom”: When Republicans Thought It Was Okay For Judicial Nominees To Have Opinions

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent yesterday’s confirmation hearing on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Nina Pillard harping on two points: first, that they think the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need its three vacancies filled, and second, that they think Pillard’s arguments as an academic mean she would disregard the law as a judge.

As it happens, when George W. Bush was the one nominating federal judges, the very same senators held the exact opposite view on both of these issues.

As People For the American Way has extensively shown, the argument that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need judges holds no water – in fact, Bush nominees Thomas Griffith and John Roberts (now Chief Justice) were confirmed to the D.C. Circuit when each active judge’s caseload was significantly lower than it is today.

And Republican attacks on Pillard’s academic writings also directly contradict their previous statements on Bush nominees with academic records. As Pillard noted in her hearing, “Academics are paid to test the boundaries and look at the implications of things. As a judge, I would apply established law of the U.S. Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit.”

Just a few years ago, Republican senators agreed. On the nomination of Tenth Circuit judge Michael McConnell, who took a number of far-right stands as an academic, including disagreeing with a Supreme Court decision declaring that a university ban on interracial dating constituted racial discrimination, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “The diversity of backgrounds and points of view are often the stitches holding together the fabric of our freedoms.”

“Surely, we can’t vote for or against a nominee on whether they agree with us on any number of a host of moral and religious issues, ” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said of Eleventh Circuit nominee William Pryor, a far-right culture warrior who was outspoken in opposition to gay rights, women’s rights and the separation of church and state.

Then-Sen. Jim Demint defended D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, one of the most outspoken conservative ideologues on the federal bench today, by saying, “A person with strong beliefs and personal convictions should not be barred from being a judge. In fact, I would rather have an honest liberal serve as a judge than one who has been neutered by fear of public opinion.”

And before the Senate confirmed Arkansas District Court Judge J. Leon Holmes, who used Todd Akin’s line about pregnancy from rape before Todd Akin did, Hatch told concerned colleagues,  “This man is a very religious man who has made it more than clear that he will abide by the law even when he differs with it.”

These Bush nominees held positions that were clearly far out of the mainstream, yet Senate Republicans demanded and got yes-or-no confirmation votes on them, helping Bush to shift the federal judiciary far to the right.

What some Judiciary Committee Republicans objected to at yesterday’s hearings is what they apparently see as Pillard’s excessive support for women’s equality, both as an attorney and an academic. Pillard won the Supreme Court case opening the Virginia Military Institute to women and worked with Bush administration officials to successfully defend the Family and Medical Leave Act.  She has strongly defended reproductive rights and criticized abstinence-only education that sends different messages to boys and girls. It’s this record that  her Republican opponents have distorted beyond recognition.

By any measure, Pillard is well within the mainstream, and has made it very clear that she understands that the role of a judge is to apply existing law regardless of one’s personal views. But while Senate Republicans made plenty of excuses for Bush nominees who were far outside the mainstream, they are accusing Pillard of being just too much of a women’s rights supporter to fairly apply the law.


By: Miranda Blue, Right Wing Watch, July 25, 2013

July 26, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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