Tag Archives: filibuster

The Supreme Court and the Filibuster

This week has the potential to be a significant week in Senate history.  Over the past two presidencies, there was a rise in the use of the filibuster to block executive branch and lower court nominees.  During the George W. Bush presidency, there were enough Democratic and Republican senators willing to work out a deal in which the Democratic senators agreed to vote for cloture on most nominations and the Republicans agreed not to invoke the “nuclear option” (exempting such nominations from the three-fifth’s rule for cloture by the vote of a majority of the Senate).  During the Barack Obama presidency, there were not enough Republican senators willing to make such a deal and the Democrats were forced to go with the nuclear option on such executive branch and lower court nominees.  However, the normal cloture rules were left in place for Supreme Court nominees.

As a starting point, here is the tentative schedule for the week.  First, on Monday, the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Neal Gorsuch.  Right now, it appears likely that the committee will approve that nomination by a majority vote.  Assuming that the Committee sends its report on that nomination to the Senate on Monday, that would trigger Rule XXXI which provides that (except by unanimous consent which will not be given) the Senate may not vote on a nomination on the same day that the nomination is reported to the full Senate.   The Republicans will then attempt to call the matter up for a vote by unanimous consent on Tuesday.  At least one Democrat will object, and the Republicans will file a cloture motion.  Under Rule XXII, that motion will probably come up for a vote on Thursday and would take sixty votes to pass.  Based on current whip counts, those sixty votes will not be there.  If somehow, the Republicans get the sixty vote or invoke the nuclear option, Rule XXII would permit thirty more hours of debate resulting in a vote between Friday and Monday the 10th.  (Technically, the Easter state work session is currently scheduled to start on the 10th and go through the 21st.  The last two weeks of argument in this year’s Supreme Court term are the weeks of April 17 and April 24.  So if Judge Gorsuch is confirmed this week, he could sit on the last thirteen arguments of this term.  If the final vote takes place after April 21, Judge Gorsuch will not sit on any argument until the next term beginning in October.)

Assuming that the cloture vote goes as currently anticipated, the Republicans will have three options.  Option number one would be to use the Easter recess to put pressure on vulnerable Democratic senators.  Right now, the two most vulnerable Democratic senators (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota) seem likely to vote for cloture, but there are other Democratic senators from other states that Trump won by wide margins.    While there are ten Democratic senators on the 2018 ballot from states that Trump won (and Maine’s independent Senator is not necessarily going to join the Democrats on this issue), half of those senators are from swing states.  The only two other Senators who come from states that were not too close to call in 2016 are Senator McCaskill from Missouri and Senator Donnelly from Indiana.  Unless the Democratic senators hear from party activists that party activists do not really care about this issue, the vote is unlikely to change much after the recess.  On the other hand, the Republican leadership would be in a stronger position to invoke the nuclear option after the recess.  (The more moderate members of the Republican caucus might believe that the Democrats should at least be given some time to debate and make their case before the nuclear option is invoked.) Continue Reading...

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Judge Gorsuch — What should we do?

On Tuesday, the maniac-in-chief nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia.  This nomination creates a significant question for Senate Democrats on how to proceed.

On the merits, at least based on current public knowledge which may change, Judge Gorsuch is a typical member of the Republican conservative establishment:  The son of Reagan’s EPA chief, educated at top schools, a mix of government and private practice before being appointed to the bench by George W.   While it is tough to tell for sure by a decisions on a lower court — where judge’s are bound by Supreme Court precedent and are trying to read between the lines to avoid reversal — Judge Gorsuch seems very similar to Justice Scalia.  It is not really possible to tell if he is on the Alito (more conservative) or Roberts (more moderate) side of Scalia.  In any case, with the exception of some criminal cases, Justice Scalia was rarely the fifth vote in a progressive decision.  As such, barring someone on the loony side, it is unlikely that any Trump nominee is going to substantially alter the balance on the Supreme Court from what it was before Trump died.  (Of course, it would have been preferable to have a Democratic president replacing Justice Scalia, but that is not now a possibility.)  And Trump is likely to nominate a candidate in his/her upper 40s or lower 50s like Judge Gorsuch, so the next opportunity for Democrats to replace any of the four conservative judges will be at least a decade or more in the future barring any unexpected deaths.  Given this reality, the question is how hard to fight this nomination.

The battle over judicial nominations — like everything else — has become more a matter of political trench warfare with each cycle.  In the 1960s, the nomination of Thurgood Marshall was contentious, but — at that time — the ideological lines between the two parties were blurrier and the opposition was regional (Southern senators of both parties) rather than partisan.  However, with the exception of the nomination of Abe Fortas in 1968, all nominees received a vote on the merits (except for those who withdrew before any floor vote) until 2016.   At the time of his retirement in 1991, Justice Marshall was one of two members of the court who received double digit “no” votes on confirmation (with 11 no votes).  However, the last four nominees all received more than twenty “no” votes and only Chief Justice Roberts received less than thirty “no” votes. Continue Reading...

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