Democrats proposed a major change to Senate rules today that would streamline the confirmation process for all judicial nominees other than those for the U.S. Supreme Court.
After Republicans blocked three of President Obama's nominees to a key federal appeals court in Washington in the past three weeks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called all senators to the floor to detail his proposal. Reid proposed the rule change this morning.
The change, often referred to as the "nuclear option," would strip the ability of the minority party to filibuster judicial nominees. The rules currently require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and advance a nomination to an up-or-down confirmation vote, which requires a simple majority.
Reid said the gridlock in the Senate nomination process makes the need for change is obvious. "It's time to change the U.S. Senate before this body becomes obsolete," Reid said.
Republicans have blocked the D.C. Circuit nominations of U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins; Patricia Millett, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; and Cornelia Pillard, who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center.
Only 23 district court nominations have been filibustered in the history of the country, with 20 coming during Obama administration, Reid said. There have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations, with half of them during the Obama administration."230-plus years, 50 percent. Four and a half years, 50 percent," Reid said. "Is there anything fair about that?"
"To change the rules regarding presidential nominees will apply equally to both parties. When Republicans are in power, these changes will apply to them just as well," Reid said on the Senate floor. "That… is simple fairness. And it's something both sides should be willing to live with to make Washington work again."
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell scoffed at the idea, calling it a fake fight to distract the public from the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
"Unlike the first two years of the Obama administration, there is now a legislative check on the president and the administration doesn't much like checks and balances," McConnell said today. "So it wants to circumvent the people's representatives with an aggressive regulatory agenda, and our Democratic colleagues want to facilitate that by filling up a court that will rule on his agenda, a court that doesn't even have enough work to do."
After the speeches, Reid moved forward to reconsider the nomination of Millett. The Senate is voting this morning.