filibuster

  • 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.

  • December 13, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    With Republicans seemingly hell-bent on tossing the country over the so-called fiscal cliff, showing no signs of agreeing to tax hikes on the nation’s superrich, and continuing their strategy of obstructionism polling shows that a majority of Americans support filibuster reform.

    Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) embraced obstructionism during President Obama’s first term, saying his party’s top priority was to ensure Obama did not serve a second one. McConnell, however, is still set on obstructionism and not surprisingly arguing that the Constitution forbids the Senate from altering its procedures by majority vote.

    A bipartisan group of law professors – including former Reagan solicitor general Charles Fried and a former conservative federal judge Michael W. McConnell – in a Dec. 12 letter to senators says McConnell is wrong. (The letter can be read here – thanks to the Brennan Center For Justice).

    “When a newly-elected Congress convenes,” the letter states, “the newly-constituted Senate, like the newly-elected House, can invoke its constitutional rulemaking authority to make changes to the Standing Rules. At that time, a majority of the new Senate can choose to reject or amend an existing rule.”

  • December 6, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    So the Senate is making some progress on confirming judges, but that progress should not mask the reality of a politicized process that has created a high vacancy rate on the federal bench. The 113th Congress has plenty of work on its plate, and it should include fixing the judicial nominations process that has hobbled the judicial system.

    Though the Senate confirmed two district court judges today – Mark Walker and Terrance Berg – both were approved months ago by the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Republican senators have throughout Obama’s first term greatly slowed the confirmation process, even for district court judges. This year, many Republicans claimed that during a presidential election year fewer judges should be confirmed, so the backlog of judges to be confirmed continued to swell, with more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench. Some Republican senators are now claiming that it is very rare for judicial nominations to be considered during lame-duck sessions of Congress. Sen. Chuck Grassley, as noted here recently, lauded his colleagues for allowing floor votes this week on a few of the pending judges.

    But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) blasted Republicans for making the wobbly claim that judicial nominations should not be considered during lame-duck sessions. “I urge them to reexamine the false premises for their contentions and I urge the Senate Republican leadership to reassess its damaging tactics,” the senator said in a Dec. 6 statement. “The new precedent they are creating is bad for the Senate, the federal courts, and most importantly, for the American people.”

  • December 5, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Filibuster reform is needed because Senate Republicans have gone over a cliff of some sort, using the tool in an unprecedented manner to thwart consideration of significant legislation and, of course, scuttle or delay some judicial nominations.

    At People For Blog, Paul nails Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) for his wildly misleading blather about the filibuster. Pointing to Grassley’s Dec. 3 statement on supposedly “setting the record straight” on consideration of judicial nominations during lame-duck sessions, Paul notes that the senator avoided the “topic completely,” and instead crowed about his party’s generosity for voting on at least one nominee during the lame-duck Congress. Grassley claimed in his statement that it is rare for the Senate to confirm judges during lame-duck sessions in presidential election years. “Republicans have been more than fair to this President and his judicial nominations,” Grassley’s statement reads.

    Beyond misleading, Grassley’s statement is disingenuous. Senate Republicans have been anything but generous to President Obama. Instead they have used the threat of filibuster and other delaying tactics to slow the pace of confirmations. Their actions have led to a federal bench with more than 80 vacancies, many of them considered judicial emergencies. (See JudicialNominations.org for more on the crisis surrounding the federal courts.)  

    The blockade of judges, as Paul notes, has also created “a huge backlog” of nominees to confirm. This week the Senate has confirmed two of the 19 nominations left pending when it recessed in August for campaigning. The Senate confirmed Paul Grimm, for a seat on the district court in Maryland and Michael P. Shea for a district court seat in Connecticut. Both nominees cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee months ago. That means up-or-down votes on those nominees and the 17 others in a functioning Senate should have occurred months ago. Republicans, however, may have wanted to stall those nominations in hopes that their party would capture the White House and fill the vacancies with right-wing judges.