The Senate Democrats last week engaged in the worst kind of politics, the type that says if you don’t agree with us, we don’t care about you.
In an unprecedented move, the Senate Democrats used the “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules. Presidential nominees for most federal judicial positions will no longer require 60 votes to proceed. Instead, a simple majority is all that is needed to move to a confirmation vote. Specifically, these actions came as the president was trying to appoint three new judges to the court that reviews most of the government’s regulations, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
This means the majority party will have the power to ram through any appointments they wish, without consideration for the other side’s objections. This almost entirely eliminates the incentive for choosing nominees that are acceptable to both parties, allowing the courts to become more politicized.
The Democrats’ real motivations were hidden behind a facade of pragmatism. Claiming the courts are overburdened, the Democrats argued that more judges were needed to increase efficiency in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the Wall Street Journal effectively exposes this flimsy rhetoric, reporting,”For the 12-months ending in September, the D.C. Circuit had 149 appeals filed per active judge. By comparison, the 11th Circuit had 778 appeals filed per active judge for the same period.” The Journal argues that Democrats are simply engaging in a “political power play” by packing “the most underworked appellate circuit in the country.”
Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid and supported by President Obama, claim that Republicans’ obstructionism is adequate cause for suppression of minority rights. But the Republicans are right to obstruct unnecessary judge appointments if the D.C. Circuit does not really need them.
Furthermore, the nuclear option is a haughty assertion of raw power, telling those who disagree that their opinions are not valuable. It’s a continuation of the mentality of Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. When the first stimulus bill was passed (with no Republican votes) in 2009, Republicans offered to make the bill a bipartisan effort by providing their input as well.
Emanuel’s response was to completely ostracize Republicans, claiming their involvement was worthless. “We have the votes,” he said, following that comment with an expletive directed toward Republicans.
This total derision of dissenting opinions has continued throughout the entire Obama presidency – during the healthcare debates, fiscal cliff negotiations, and now presidential appointments.
Eight years ago, on the Senate floor in 2005, then-Sen. Obama remarked, “What (the American people) don’t expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.”
It sounds like the Obama of 2013 should have listened to his own advice in 2005. The Senate Democrats’ move last week was a dangerous blow to bipartisanship and the rights of the minority.
Danny Huizinga | Baylor University | @HuizingaDanny