Filibuster Reform 2.0, Coming Soon to the Senate

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 18 2013 4:01 PM

Filibuster Reform 2.0, Coming Soon to the Senate

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Pat Leahy doesn't appreciate his committee's nominees being given the slip—the blue slip.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Senate rule change that allowed D.C. Circuit judges to beat filibuster votes really did make it easier to confirm most nominees. It did remove a tool that Republicans had been using to stop the most important lower bench in the country from being filled up with Democrats. But it didn't take away their ability to block nominees to other courts.

And so, below the radar, Republicans have started boycotting the hearings that allow the nominees to start down the road to confirmation. It happened again today, when a Judiciary Committee hearing on nominees to fill slots in Kansas, Maine, Maryland, and California was canceled. It's possible for a senator to "blue-slip," or hold, a nominee from his state. But Maryland and California are represented by Democratic senators only. The majority party saw this as an act of aggression.

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Cue Pat Leahy, committee chairman and Senate president pro tempore.

Just last week, Republicans prevented the Judiciary Committee from holding an executive business meeting to consider 18 highly qualified nominees, including two Texas U.S. Marshals.  Those two nominees should have been approved by the Committee last month, but Republicans failed to attend the meeting to report their nominations. As Chairman of the Judiciary Com­mittee, I have consistently shown my commitment to work with all Senators to process nominations. This obstruction sets back the bipartisan cooperation we have seen in recent weeks on such legislative matters as the budget, the defense authorization bill, and the Farm Bill. If this obstruction continues with respect to judicial nominees, I will be forced to reconsider long-held policies that have upheld the rights of the minority party in this process.

Democrats paid basically zero political cost for the first round of filibuster reform. What's to stop another round?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.