Editorials and Opinion
Editorial: Senators should confirm Reeves before holidays (Knoxville News Sentinel [TN] , 12/05/13)
"Continued Senate inaction on other matters, however, would needlessly delay the confirmation of a U.S. District Court judge nominee for East Tennessee, Knoxville lawyer Pamela Reeves. In a meeting with News Sentinel editors and reporters this week, Sen. Lamar Alexander said all that is needed is for Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule a vote. Alexander said he sees no reason why Reeves would not be confirmed, noting that no district court nominee has ever been blocked by a filibuster. “It’s up to Harry Reid,” Alexander said. “All he has to do is bring her name up. I know of no problem with Pam. I’ve met with her. The way you get confirmation is, the Democratic leader makes a motion to confirm and I don’t know any reason why she wouldn’t be.” Reid should pay attention to Alexander."
America is better off without a filibuster (Washington Times, 12/04/13)
Steve Levy: "Super majorities are sometimes required, as when enacting constitutional amendments ... But Senate rules have required super majorities to get anything passed. ... The safeguards James Madison embedded in our Constitution already provide protections to the minority. There is no need to pass rules that create a permanent gridlock within our democracy by allowing a small minority to become the tail that wags the dog. It would be natural for Republicans to oppose this rule change since the previous rules kept the Obama administration from placing more far-left jurists on the federal courts. But the reality is that the nation voted for a Democratic president who has a right to make his appointments, just as a Republican would."
Heller filibuster remarks a 'paranoid leap' (Reno Gazette-Journal [NV] , 12/04/13)
David Stegen: "Senator Heller linking the change in the filibuster rule for judicial appointments to the Yucca Mountain issue is a paranoid leap similar to beliving that enacting resonable gun safety legislation is an assault on the second amendment. ...
I am baffled that an elected representative who was put into office by majority rule could say (as you quoted him), ”…today’s actions by the Senate have made Nevada even more vulunerable to the will of the majority.” ... It is time that you and the other obstructionists in Congress stop whining"
Julie DelCour: Rule change could make government more efficient Will pettiness, partisanship go by wayside? (Tulsa World [OK] , 12/01/13)
Associate Editor column: "President Obama has one of the worst records if not the worst record of any president for getting his nominations through the process in a timely fashion.... Perhaps most damaging is the unprecedented backlog of judicial appointments.
In Tulsa, a U.S. District Court judgeship, vacated by Terrence Kern who took senior status in 2009, took three years to fill finally with the confirmation of Judge John Dowdell A vacancy on the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, following the departure of Robert Henry in 2010, was not filled until early this year, with the confirmation of Judge Robert Bacharach.... The recent Senate rule-change came to a head because Senate Republicans had blocked three Obama nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ... Every community is hurt because the people's business doesn't get done courts are without judges, federal agencies are without leadership and the president is playing without a full team. The gridlock cripples one of the country's most important recruitment offices."
Editorial: Gazette opinion: Senate must expedite delayed judicial confirmations (Billings Gazette [MT,WY], 12/01/13)
"The filibuster rule change that created uproar in the Senate before Thanksgiving should provide judicial relief in Montana by Christmas. ... The immediate trigger for the dramatic rule change was Republicans’ blocking of President Barack Obama’s three nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Those are just three vacancies among 91 nationwide. Fifty-one of Obama's judicial nominees are awaiting Senate confirmation. Thirty-eight of them are needed to fill judicial emergencies, including the two in Montana. Political stalemate is holding up even non-controversial nominations, such as the two Montana judgeships. ... Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., were reluctant to vote for the filibuster rule change, but supported it to overcome the gridlock that is starving America's justice system of judges. With too few judges, justice is delayed. Justice delayed is justice denied.... Baucus is right. It is time for the Senate to do its job: Allow the president to fulfill his constitutional duty to appoint U.S. judges so the judicial branch can do its job."
Your Views: Filibuster change brings democracy to the Senate (Janesville Gazette [WI], 12/01/13)
Robert Oblak: "What were the GOP senators thinking to force this change to the filibuster rule? Currently the federal judiciary is evenly balanced with 390 GOP-appointed judges and 391 Democratic-appointed judges. However, 93 vacancies will soon be filled by Obama, and he still has three years and whatever vacancies that will arise to fill. This is not a “packing of the court”; it is simply an exercise of the president’s responsibility to fill judicial vacancies."
Filibuster abuse will lead to its end (Journal Tribune [York County, ME], 11/30/13)
Gordon L. Weil column: "The Republican Senate minority has resorted to using the filibuster threat hundreds of times to block legislation and to prevent President Obama from naming people to executive office or to the courts. Endless debate had become a tool not to promote full and thoughtful discussion, but with the open intent to introduce minority rule.... By last week, Republican senators had made it clear they would not approve any appointees to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., although it is authorized by law to have 11 judges, and there are only eight now on the bench. The GOP had no serious objections to the three Obama appointees. But it feared that the ideological balance on the court could shift away from conservative domination by justices appointed by Republican presidents. It wanted the court reduced to the current eight judges. The GOP was unwilling to wait until there was a Republican president and Senate to change the number of judges, assuming it would do so if it had control. While the Constitution provides that the president appoints federal judges subject to the “advice and consent” of the Senate, it does not suggest that a Senate minority should legislate by blocking presidential appointments."
Editorial: Government in Slow Motion (New York Times, 11/29/13)
"Last week, in a fit of fury after they lost the ability to filibuster President Obama’s nominees, several Congressional Republicans threatened to retaliate by slowing things down on Capitol Hill.... It’s hard to see how Republicans could slow things down more than they already have for the last several years. Yes, they can prevent committees from meeting and add days of wasted time to every nomination and bill. Just after the filibuster vote, in fact, Senate Republicans refused a routine request for unanimous consent to approve several of the president’s uncontested nominees. But the larger business of governing is already being cast aside."
James Gill: Mussolini touches Senate campaign (Advocate [Baton Rouge, LA], 11/28/13)
Column: "banning the filibuster for most presidential appointments. Opinions vary on the wisdom of guaranteeing that a bare majority of the Senate will get its way, but this is not a proposition that Mussolini would have espoused. To invoke a tyrant’s name in a debate over the nuts and bolts of democracy is crazy.... In 2005 when the Republicans held sway, alleging filibuster abuse and threatening to change the rules, Vitter spoke for them. “The issue is primarily one of fairness to these individual nominees,” he said. The GOP would insist on a “yes or no vote.” ... The final straw came when the Senate failed to act on three nominations to the Court of Appeals in D.C. Filibusters were jettisoned, and the Republicans hoist by their own petard.... The Republic is not going to collapse because it just became harder to thwart the will of the majority in the Senate."
The Filibuster Is Dead, But Blue Slips Are Still Alive and Kicking (Mother Jones, 11/27/13)
Kevin Drum: "Republicans have played games with the blue slip rule over the past couple of decades, requiring only one blue slip when a fellow Republican is president but two when a Democrat is president, but ever since the 2006 midterms Patrick Leahy has been chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and he's a pretty straight shooter. ... Leahy was presumably hoping that setting an example of fair-mindedness would prompt Republicans to act fairly too, and in this he was obviously wrong. ... Republican senators have been pretty free about using their blue slip privileges already ... One reason for optimism is that because Democrats have now proven they can be pushed only so far, maybe Republican senators will pause a bit before upping the ante even more."
Filibuster is Gone, But Will Blue Slips Halt 11th Circuit Nominations? (Findlaw, 11/27/13)
William Peacock, Esq.: "Will the removal of the filibuster allow thirteen Eleventh Circuit vacancies (four of which are on the circuit court of appeals itself) to be filled in a timely manner, or will the oft-forgotten Blue Slips tactic rise up in its place? ... even before the gutted filibuster announcement, blue slips were used locally, to block Jill Pryor from the appeals court bench, and Florida state court Judge William Thomas, who was in line for a district court seat. ... if blue slips are used (or abused) along party lines, the Eleventh Circuit's nomination logjam, for the four Circuit Court spots, as well as the nine district court vacancies, could continue."
Next stop in GOP judicial nominations obstruction: Blue slips (Daily Kos, 11/27/13)
Joan McCarter: "The blue slip is just a tradition, a tradition that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) ignored when he chaired the Judiciary Committee. When Democrats regained the majority and Sen. Patrick Leahy took over, he restored it, but he seems open to change, just as he was on the nuclear option.... This is a fight President Obama should take on, because it's both one he could win and because judicial vacancies really are a crisis. He can start with those seven vacancies in Texas."
Editorial: Filibuster vote just attempt to avoid real work (Pantagraph [Bloomington, IL], 11/27/13)
"Senate Republicans have been holding up several nominations by President Obama, not because they felt the nominees were unfit, but because they didn’t want Obama’s Democrat-leaning appointments to go through.... Republicans have been doing it to Obama, mostly because they can.... Of course, presidents select judges that reflect their political values, although it’s been proved many times that predicting the future decisions of the judiciary is chancy at best. For most of our country’s history, judicial nominations were approved by the Senate as long as the candidate met the qualifications and appears up to the task. The appointments need to be approved in order to keep the judiciary process, already plagued by delays, running smoothly. The need for operating an efficient government has given over to partisanship in the last decade. Judicial nominations are no longer routine; instead the nominations are regularly held up by the minority party for purely partisan reasons. It’s an ugly practice, which everyone living outside the Washington metro area easily recognizes."
Editorial: In Our View: Fiddling with Filibuster (Columbian [WA], 11/26/13)
"Prior to the 1970s, filibusters were exceedingly rare. Now they have become a bludgeon for the minority to enforce their will. Republicans in recent years have used filibusters an unprecedented number of times to block nominees or to block legislation ... The changes in the meaning and the usage of the filibuster called for changes to the rules; it was only a matter of time."
Editorial: New filibuster rules revive the Senate; Judicial appointments should not have become partisan hostages. (Minneapolis Star Tribune [MN] , 11/26/13)
"Wishing for more restraint in Republican use of the filibuster to block the confirmation of executive and judicial branch appointments wasn’t making it so. ... A former prosecutor, Klobuchar also argues forcefully that leaving judicial positions vacant for purely partisan reasons is unacceptable. “Everything from criminal cases to consumer cases get delayed,” she said this week. “The most complicated cases end up in federal court. We need every judicial position filled to handle that load.” It’s notable that the filibuster that went too far in the eyes of Senate Democrats was over three appointees to the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. That court is the venue for cases involving the administrative decisions of federal agencies, making it second only to the Supreme Court in influence. Its docket in coming years is likely to include cases that deal with the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to curb carbon emissions and various agencies’ implementation of the Dodd-Frank law governing the financial-services industry. Those cases deserve to be assigned to a court at full strength. As Klobuchar said Nov. 7 on the Senate floor, the three stalled appointees to that court are people with stellar credentials. Two of the three are women; one previously filibustered appointee to the D.C. Circuit was also female. The need for better gender balance is among several reasons why the appointees deserve confirmation. If the filibuster had not been “nuked,” it’s not clear when or even if the D.C. Circuit would be back to its full 11-judge complement. The same goes for the rest of the federal court system. Nearly 11 percent of federal judgeships are vacant, causing stress and delay that ultimately erodes the quality of the administration of justice."
Blue-Slip Battle: The Senate Obstructionists’ Secret Weapon (New Yorker, 11/26/13)
Jeffrey Toobin: "The list of federal judicial vacancies tells an extraordinary story. For example, there are seven vacancies on the federal district courts in Texas. ... Obama’s practice has been to try to get advance clearance from Republican senators before he nominates anyone to the federal bench from their states.... But the Republicans don’t agree to any of Obama’s choices, and so the seats stay vacant, sometimes for years. ... There are three vacancies in Kentucky, three more in Georgia, and two in Alabama. And it’s not true just for the district court; Leahy has honored blue slips for circuit-court judgeships, as well. There are two vacancies each on the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits,"
Filibuster rules fight leaves nominees dangling (Washington Post, 11/25/13)
Al Kamen column: "Traditionally, before the Senate takes a long, 18-day vacation, both parties negotiate to approve a list of noncontroversial judicial and executive branch nominees. But not this time. Republicans, furious over the Democrats’ move to eliminate the filibuster on most nominations, were in no mood to play nice.
So the Senate slithered out of town Thursday for Thanksgiving — apparently they eat a lot and need time to digest so they won’t come back until Dec.9 — and left more than 70 nominees, all of whom had been approved by Senate committees, twisting in the wind."
Editorial: There's a simple solution for GOP (Reno Gazette-Journal [NV] , 11/24/13)
"Reid finally became sufficiently exasperated with the minority party’s attempts to reverse the outcome of the past two presidential elections and took that “nuclear option,” barring the use of the filibuster to prevent the president from appointing federal judges and Cabinet-level officials. It’s a measure of Reid’s respect for the long-standing prerogatives of senators that he waited so long. He wasn’t happy, but earlier this year he allowed Nevada’s junior senator, Dean Heller, to single-handedly block even a hearing on the nomination of Judge Elissa Cadish to the federal court in Nevada. It finally took the rejection by filibuster this fall of three nominees to the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to convince Reid to take action to limit the filibuster. (The court has four judges appointed by a Republican president and four by a Democratic president; five of six retired judges who still participate in cases were appointed by a Republican.)"
Reid's 'nuclear' strike unavoidable (Seacoastonline [Southern ME & NH], 11/24/13)
Douglas Rooks: "Reid acted only after an unprecedented degree of obstruction by the Senate minority, to the point where it was unclear Congress could even function. ... Susan Collins, along with the other 44 Republicans, voted against the change, but earlier took a more moderate position on three of Obama's nominees to the D.C. Court of Appeals. She voted to break the filibusters, but, unfortunately, attracted only one other Republican vote.
Collins called the filibuster move a "terrible mistake" but the mistake was Republicans deciding they could, without explanation, permanently thwart the Senate majority.... [Sen. Warren notes that the three women Obama nominated — one withdrew last year after, yes, repeated filibusters — have argued 45 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. It's hard to imagine nominees better qualified for the D.C. court, which ranks second in the federal system. The fig leaf Republicans used was the idea that the court's caseload was too small, so judges needed to be reassigned. The caseload is about where it's always been, and includes all appeals from federal agency decisions. Republicans just don't like a Democratic president filling seats vacated by retiring GOP-appointed judges, the largest number appointed by Ronald Reagan almost 30 years ago. "
Fili-busted in the Senate, and rightly so: Editorial (Star-Ledger Newark [NJ] , 11/24/13)
"Republicans have only themselves to blame, because let’s face it — they left the other party with no other choice. The GOP has used this tactic to thwart President Obama’s nominees with relentless gridlock, to a degree never seen before in Senate history. ... Nearly half of all the filibusters that blocked nominations in the Senate have occurred since Obama took office."
John Cornyn among senators flipping positions in filibuster fight (Dallas Morning News, 11/23/13)
Todd J. Gilman Column: "“Simple up-or-down vote” became a mantra for him and other Republicans as their leaders threatened to do what Reid did last week. “I did say that,” Cornyn recalled. But, he said, that was before the bipartisan “gang of 14” deal late in 2005 to defuse the stalemate. “They basically said you don’t filibuster judges absent ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ Appointing three judges to a court where they’re not needed in order to stack that court to rubber-stamp the president’s agenda is an extraordinary circumstance,” Cornyn argued.... “Just because you observe a stop sign 168 times and comply with the law, you are not to be rewarded for running that stop sign four times,” he argued on Nov. 12, 2003. He called these filibusters blatantly unconstitutional, and he chastised Democrats whose views had shifted to fit political exigencies. “For those senators who decried filibusters in the past and who now embrace them, what has changed to cause their change of opinion and change of view?” Cornyn said. “We know what has happened.” Indeed, we do."
Editorial: Our View: Filibuster reform right move for Senate; Most Americans want action, not dysfunction, from Washington. (Portland Press Herald [ME] , 11/23/13)
"“This is contrary to not only the long-standing rules of the Senate but our traditions of respecting minority (party) rights,” said Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
But it is what the Republicans have been doing in the Senate over the last four-and-a-half years that is the real aberration, and the new Senate rules will bring the practice back to something closer to the norm. As Reid pointed out Thursday, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations in the nation’s history. Half of them have occurred during the Obama administration. He said there have been 23 filibusters of district court nominations in the entire history of our country. Twenty of those were nominated by Obama. The break with tradition did not start on Thursday. If all these blocked nominations were because Obama was nominating ideological extremists, it might make sense. But even when they block these candidates from being considered, Republican senators say that it’s not about the nominee’s qualifications. William Kayatta, a Portland lawyer with stellar qualifications and the endorsement of Maine’s two Republican senators, saw his nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals stalled for more than a year by senators who had hoped that a Republican would win the 2012 presidential election and nominate someone else. This not only interfered with the work of the courts, but it gave all potential nominees a reason to think twice about accepting a nomination."
Editorial: Change, at long last (Times Argus [VT] , 11/23/13)
"Republican senators have used the filibuster, or the threat of a filibuster, to block routine action or appointments. There are more than twice the number of judicial appointments awaiting action now than there were at this point in either of the Bush presidencies."
Editorial: Our View: About time for simple majority rule (Anchorage Daily News [AK] , 11/23/13)
"it will be much harder for the minority, or even a minority of the minority, to block votes on presidential appointments, especially vacancies for judges in federal courts. This is good news.... Recently Republicans have upped the ante on the number of appointments held up -- a trend that would have tried the patience of one Alaska Republican. As the story in Friday's Daily News pointed out, the late Sen. Ted Stevens was opposed to the filibuster for holding up nominations, especially for judges. That's because this political game obstructs the business of government and the courts, and violates an old given that the executive -- whether Republican or Democrat -- gets wide latitude for most appointments....With simple majority votes, we'll have less obstruction on every appointment. It's about time."
Editorial: Senate acted wisely in curtailing the filibuster (Buffalo News [NY], 11/23/13)
"Republicans had no justifiable reason for blocking perfectly qualified candidates. Wilkins is a federal judge. Millett has argued nearly three dozen cases before the Supreme Court. Pillard is a law professor at Georgetown who litigated racial discrimination cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and Halligan is the general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney. Republicans have had little to say about the candidates’ qualifications. But they have suggested that the Court of Appeals has a lot of time on its hands and have proposed legislation to shrink it by three seats. They don’t want President Obama to influence the court’s direction, but that’s what presidents do. Elections have consequences. There are three vacancies on the 11-seat court. Right now, it has a conservative bent. Senate Republicans went too far in their determination to keep it that way. Indeed, they have routinely gone too far, not simply using the Senate’s filibuster procedure, but chronically abusing it, to the nation’s detriment. Something had to change."
Editorial: The filibuster falls, a victim of abuse (St. Louis Post-Dispatch [MO] , 11/23/13)
"Now, with political partisanship as deep as it has been since Reconstruction, the abuses reached the point where Mr. Reid decided to pull the trigger.... The upshot was that the ability of the courts and the executive branch to do business has become severely compromised.... The proximate cause of the rule change was the GOP refusal to let three of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., come to a vote. That court, because it generally has jurisdiction over regulatory agencies, is regarded as second only to the Supreme Court in the impact of its deliberations. The current appeals court has done great damage to environmental and financial regulations.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, himself an alumnus of the D.C. Court of Appeals, has written that at least a third of the cases that come before the Supreme Court deal with regulatory challenges. That’s one reason why judges from that appeals court often find their way to the Supreme Court. Currently there are four judges on the appeals court appointed by Democrats (including one of Mr. Obama’s nominees who was confirmed after a long delay earlier this year) and four appointed by Republicans. Five of the six senior judges, who are semiretired, are Republican appointees. Republican senators did not want the court’s overall conservatism diluted by Mr. Obama’s appointees, no matter how qualified they are. Republicans are correct that the Democrats played this game, too. But this year there have been an average of 69 vacant judicial seats, creating long delays and heavy caseloads. The highest number of vacancies during the Bush administration was 35."
Obama’s judicial opportunity (MSNBC, 11/22/13)
Steve Benen: " If Obama had gone out of his way to pick an ideological fight with Senate Republicans – nominating the most left-wing, hyper-liberal jurists he could find – the GOP’s unprecedented obstructionism would at least be marginally more defensible. But the president has done the polar opposite, trying to avoid these fights and circumvent the need for filibusters by choosing center-left, mainstream nominees – who ended up getting blocked anyway. For his trouble, radicalized congressional Republicans decided ideology, qualifications, and temperament no longer mattered – they’d block Obama’s nominees because they’re Obama’s nominees. ... Now that judicial filibusters are a thing of the past, Obama could shift his focus, look beyond nominations of aggressively moderate, center-left jurists, and start sending actual liberals to the Senate for confirmation. Or put another way, Obama could select judicial nominees who are as progressive as Bush’s nominees were conservative."
EDITORIAL: Filibuster flip (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11/22/13)
"Sen. Reid, D-Nev., did the right thing Thursday when he established new precedent to limit minority power.... Every presidential nominee should receive a timely up-or-down vote, regardless of the president’s party and which party controls the Senate. And only under unusual circumstances should any executive or judicial nominee face outright rejection. Sen. Reid and Democrats justified this step because they claim Senate Republicans’ use of the filibuster is unprecedented. That’s true to a degree."
With the filibuster nuked, bring on the liberal judges (MSNBC, 11/22/13)
Adam Serwer: "Democrats got a big win on Thursday in the filibuster reform. But there are still less commonly known procedural obstacles to nominating judges, ... The most significant of these procedural obstacles is the “blue slip” process. ... Leahy’s custom is to be very deferential to his fellow senators from both parties.... Republicans have taken advantage of Leahy’s deference to slow down judicial nominations–in some cases, even for names they have approved in advance. In September, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sank the nomination of William Thomas, who would have been the first openly gay black judge, by withdrawing support for his candidacy after previously having endorsed it. The blue slip process can act as a silent filibuster, a way Senators can block judicial nominations without drawing public attention to what they’re doing. ... ten nominations were stalled by Republican senators not returning their blue slips. The Democratic official also said that Arizona Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain have not returned blue slips for five nominees to the Arizona District Court – even though McCain has endorsed the candidates. There are still 93 vacancies on the federal bench, and only 51 nominees. ... “I assume no one will abuse the blue slip process like some have abused the use of the filibuster to block judicial nominees on the floor of the Senate,” Leahy said in a statement to msnbc. “As long as the blue slip process is not being abused by home state senators, then I will see no reason to change that tradition.”"