Republicans May Go Nuclear on Judicial Nomination Filibusters

Senate Republicans may push through a vote on the so-called “nuclear option” on judicial nominees later this month.

Republicans May Hasten Showdown on Judicial-Nomination Filibusters

As the fight over the federal judiciary spread across Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans said Tuesday that they might quicken their push to prevent Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees. Senior lawmakers and party officials said that while Republican leaders had been expected to put off any confrontation over Senate rules until next month at the earliest, they might now force a confrontation within the next two weeks. “It’s possible,” though “that does not mean it will happen,” said Bob Stevenson, a spokesman for the majority leader, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Mr. Frist is under increasing pressure from some conservative Republicans to move ahead with a floor fight to change the rules so that filibusters, which require 60 votes to be cut off, could not be mounted against judicial nominations. It is unclear whether he has the votes to adopt the change, however, even by a bare majority. Among those pushing for the change is Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, No. 3 in the Republican leadership. “I am concerned that a partisan minority of Democrats are threatening to shut down the Senate if Republicans act to restore Senate tradition for simple majority votes” on nominations to the bench, Mr. Santorum said. “Their rhetoric is out of control and counterproductive.”

Democrats responded by saying it was Republicans, with their efforts to curb the filibuster and with their escalating attacks on the judiciary, who were going too far. “The Republican abuse of power,” Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York said, “has been pushed by extremists who want to punish an independent judiciary and simultaneously obliterate checks and balances, effectively making the U.S. Senate a rubber stamp for judicial nominees.”

If the GOP is going to do it, there’s no time like the present. The “will they or won’t they” speculation has been dragging on for months.

Schumer’s rhetoric here is silly. While it’s true that several senators have been hyper-critical of certain judicial decisions that they consider “activist,” that really has little to do with whether judicial nominees should get an up-or-down vote in the Senate. The filibuster is an extra-constitutional device that has been modified numerous times in the past. The system of checks and balances is hardly in jeapardy.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.