The U.S. Senate has voted to change how many votes are required to break a filibuster to approve executive and judicial nominees, reducing the threshold to the simple majority of 51. The change came about after several nominees were blocked by Republicans.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday regarding the changes to the Senate rules, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., commented about hours and days wasted between filibusters.
“In the history of the Republic, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations,” he said. “Half of them have occurred during the Obama Administration – during the last four-and-a-half years. These nominees deserve at least an up-or-down vote.”
He referenced the filibusters by Republicans of nominees for secretary of defense, the consumer financial protection bureau chief, and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He said 23 District Court nominees have been filibustered in the history of the U.S.; 20 of them nominated by President Barack Obama.
“With one out of every 10 federal judgeships vacant, millions of Americans who rely on courts that are overworked and understaffed are being denied the justice they rightly deserve,” he said.
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, said that Senate Democrats and supporters of “Obamacare” used the vote as a distraction to avoid talking about “the damaging impacts of the deeply flawed health care law” on Americans.
“This action to change the Senate rules and weaken the Founding Fathers’ vision for checks and balances is yet another disturbing power grab and reminds the public of how the Democrats jammed through the unwanted health care law,” he said in a statement.
The rule change does not apply to filibusters of Supreme Court nominees and legislation. Those will still require 60 votes.
David Orentlicher, professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, said the Senate Democrats have wrongly tampered with an important protection for Senate minority rights with the filibuster “reform.”
The filibuster rule change “provides another example of Congress undermining the Constitution’s basic framework,” he said. “Senate Democrats have made it easier for presidents to have their way with Congress, and that has things backwards. The framers created a system of separated powers so that each branch would check and balance the other branches.”