The Nuclear Option

The Senate made a historic decision last week when it eliminated the use of the filibuster to block presidential appointments to Cabinet and judicial posts. A supermajority of 60 votes will no longer be needed for the Senate to confirm nominees, except for the Supreme Court.

Tired of how the Republican minority blocked the confirmation of three judges nominated to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took the so-called “nuclear option,” which allowed him to make the change with a simple majority.

Reid said he was obliged to force the change because of the excessive partisan obstruction by Republicans. After the vote, President Obama said that Republicans had taken advantage of disputes over nominations to bring the government to a halt, and that “today’s pattern of obstruction—it just isn’t normal.”

Obama is right. The filibuster is a modern tradition in the Senate that is not considered in the Constitution. It gives extraordinary power to the minority and has been used by Republicans to block Obama’s nominees more than those of any other president in history.

This concerns us deeply because it has prevented the president from fulfilling one of his most critical functions, that of filling vacancies on federal courts, especially in jurisdictions where there are majorities of conservative judges appointed by Republican presidents.

We believe that the change of rules in the Senate is positive because it represents a significant strike against the partisan polarization that has defined Congress in recent years. Americans are tired of the constant bickering between Democrats and Republicans and expect much more from their delegates in Washington.