filibuster

  • February 27, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Two hundred and twenty three days is a long time to wait for a new job. Yet, that’s the average number of days that an Obama judicial nominee must wait from nomination to confirmation.

    While they’re waiting, they have to put their professional lives on hold, lest they inadvertently do anything that might stall their confirmation. And, that’s just the average nominee; many have waited much, much longer. Caitlin Halligan, one of President Obama’s nominees to the influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has been waiting nearly three years for her confirmation to go through a bitterly divided Senate. Some say that Halligan’s nomination is controversial because of her statements on the Second Amendment and detainee rights. But, even completely uncontroversial nominees who are rated as “highly qualified” by the American Bar Association, like Bill Kayatta, who was recently confirmed to sit on the First Circuit, have languished for months in the Senate. Robert Bacharach, who was recently confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, had his confirmation delayed in a filibuster aided by his home-state Senators.

    When judges have to wait to take their posts, ordinary people have to wait increasingly longer for routine legal matters to get resolved. Right now there are 88 vacancies in the federal judiciary, about a third of those are considered judicial emergencies – where the judges on a court have so many cases that they are forced to preform judicial triage. In those courts, resolving a civil case can take years because criminal matters take higher priority on the docket, and even those can be significantly delayed despite the constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial. In some districts, there are so many vacancies that a term like “ghost court” wouldn’t be far off the mark. Six judgeships in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, are vacant, along with five judgeships in the District of Arizona. There are even federal courthouses that have literally been sitting empty for years because no one has even been nominated to fill those judgeships.

  • February 20, 2013

    The Atlantic reports that it’s now been nearly three years since a major piece of legislation made its way through the Senate. While the Senate had done things like passing a highway bill, and reapproving the import-export bank, most of the Senate’s legislative agenda for the last two years has been lurching from crisis to crisis – like the deals the ended the fiscal cliff crisis of 2012 and the debt ceiling crisis of 2011. Even matters completely within the prevue of the Senate, and once considered routine business, are becoming mired in partisan bickering. The Washington Post commented that the filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, the first ever, marked the beginning of a 60-vote Senate. The president’s judicial nominations have fared even worse, with one nominee, Caitlin Halligan, waiting nearly two years for confirmation to the D.C. Circuit. Major action, such as comprehensive legislation on immigration reform and bold measures on climate change, is needed as are judges to fill vacancies on the federal bench (and there are a lot of them), but progress looks bleak in this atmosphere thanks largely to one of the nation’s two major political parties. The American people deserve far better than a Congress full of preening politicians constantly consumed with holding onto or expanding power.  

    -- ESA   

  • February 4, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Shortly after Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced so-called filibuster reform, TPM reported that the chamber’s chief ringleader of obstruction, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) “bragged” about killing the serious reforms that would have undermined obstructionists’ ability to so effectively wield the tool.

    In this post not long before the “filibuster reform,” was announced I noted that it appeared Reid was prepared to suffer even more obstructionism. (TPM had reported that Reid was ready to forgo a simple-majority vote to make real changes to the filibuster that would require senators to actually mount and sustain a filibuster, instead of relying on an easy and stealthy manner of deploying the filibuster.)

    Then late last week, as reported by TPM’s Brian Beutler, McConnell and 40 of his Republican colleagues promised try again to block the confirmation of Richard Cordray to permanently head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “unless Democrats agree to pass legislation dramatically weakening the agency.”

    President Obama overcame the first Republican blockade of his choice to the head the CFPB via a recess appointment that will leave him on the job until the end of the year. A recent, though widely attacked, opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, found that Obama’s recess appointment of Cordray and three nominees to fill vacant seats on the five-member National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The Obama administration has signaled it will appeal the opinion, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney calling it “novel and unprecedented.”

     

  • January 15, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As Salon’s Steve Kornacki persuasively argues, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is a friend of the National Rifle Association, likely helping to kill any meaningful gun control legislation.

    Kornacki notes that Reid recently told Nevada reporters that he is not supporting any of the reforms expected to be put forth by the administration (The New York Times reports that Vice President Joe Biden has identified 19 executive orders the president could issue to advance gun safety) and essentially “pronounced the assault weapons ban dead ….”

    Kornacki continues:

    Not only is there steep resistance in the Republican-controlled House, but the Senate also includes a number of Democrats like Reid from pro-gun states who would rather not go on record voting for a new ban.

    In stating that he won’t consider legislation that doesn’t stand a chance in the House, Reid appears to be giving pro-gun Senate Democrats an opportunity to duck the question.

    Beyond providing cover to “pro-gun Senate Democrats,” Reid now appears to be wavering on filibuster reform. Last year, Reid took to the Senate floor to bemoan his lack of support for filibuster reform and said he favored reform measures advocated by several Democratic senators.

  • December 19, 2012
    Guest Post

    Diana Kasdan, Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice

    Every senator needs to put “fix the filibuster” at the top of his or her New Year’s Resolution List. Specifically, they need to resolve to pursue serious rules reforms that can curb the exponential rate of obstruction in recent decades. And it must happen on January 3rd. Here are three reasons why:

    1.      Congress is Broken and Senate Obstruction is Part of the Problem

    The 112th Congress has had the lowest output of any since at least World War II. This stems from reasons well beyond divided control of chambers, which defines the current and incoming Congress. Control of the House and Senate was also divided from 1981 to 1987, yet Congress enacted an average of nearly 600 public laws during each two-year period, compared to barely 200 in the current session.

    So what is causing this decline in productivity? One prime culprit is filibuster abuse. As a recent Brennan Center reportconfirms, longstanding procedural rules have become tools of obstruction allowing legislative minorities to impose a veto on nearly every order of Senate business. Even when addressing matters purely within its own control, the Senate is at a virtual standstill. The Senate has passed a record-low 2.8 percent of its own bills. At its peak efficiency in the 1950s, the Senate passed nearly 27 percent of its bills. And, on average, it has taken 188 days for the Senate to confirm a judicial nominee during the current Congress, creating 32 “judicial emergencies.” Only at the end of the congressional term in 1992 and 2010 have there been more judicial emergencies.