The U.S. Senate has given both Republican and Democrat something to rue!

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April 10, 2017 4:25 PM

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The U.S. Senate has given both Republican and Democrat something to rue!

 

Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court today. What should be a meaningful moment for American democracy has been tarnished by the childish partisan bickering of our U.S. Senators over the last four years.

 

The Republicans argue that they were forced to ignite the “Nuclear Option” because for the first time in our history the Democrats were using a filibuster to block the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. They argue that is merely a minor extension of what Democratic Leader Harry Reid did in 2013 when he ended the requirement for 60 votes for all executive branch and judicial nominees other than the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

The Democrats respond that every vote for a U.S. Supreme Court nominee has required 60 votes before proceeding to a floor vote. They further argue that if the Republicans had not refused to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merick Garland this never would have happened.

  • As usual the truth lies somewhere in between!

As someone who has experienced a fair amount of legislative parliamentary maneuvering, I have to admit the arcane rules of the U.S. Senate are a little foreign to me and have required some research. When the Senate changed its cloture rules to require 60 votes in 1949, Presidential nominations were never mentioned or discussed.  That is probably because the thought of a filibuster for nominations was totally alien to the Senate in 1949!

 

No Supreme Court nomination has ever been killed by a filibuster. The Democrats could have denied Clarence Thomas confirmation in 1991 but 11 Democrats joined 41 Republicans to approve Thomas 52-48.  The Republicans could have filibustered Obama’s nominees, Elena Kagan in 2009 and Sonia Sotomayor in 2010 but both were approved by an up or down vote.

 

It appears that neither the U.S. Constitution nor Senate precedent require 60 votes before a Supreme Court nominee is given a simple majority vote of approval. Obviously the two parties have changed their positions on this issue depending on whether they were in the majority or the minority.

 

According to the Washington Post when the Democrats changed the rules for dozens of President Obama’s nominees in 2013 it was Leader Harry Reid who said the Senate “must evolve beyond partisan roadblocks.” “The American people believe the Senate is broken and I believe the American people are right.  It’s time to get the Senate working again. In the same article the Post stated “The change was so significant that Reid and his leadership team held a victory party with liberal activists afterward just off the Senate floor.”

 

Of course Republican Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the change in 2013 but used much the same language as Reid to justify why he reluctantly had to make the change last week and apply it to this Supreme Court nomination. Unfortunately in today ultra-partisan atmosphere, a 60 vote requirement probably assures the defeat of any Presidential nominees.

  • How did Indiana’s Senators vote on changing the Senate rules?

 

The headlines have been that Senator Joe Donnelly joined fellow Democrats Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp and the 51 Republican Senators to approve Gorsuch 54-45. As background all three Democrats were elected in 2012 and are running for re-election in 2018 in Republican leaning states.

 

After all three were elected in 2012 they supported Harry Reid when the Democrats changed the rules in 2013 to abolish the 60 vote requirement. However last week they all joined their Democratic colleagues and voted to postpone Gorsuch’s nomination and to keep the 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

 

Senator Todd Young voted with all of the Republicans to abolish the 60 vote requirement and to confirm Gorsuch. Senator Donnelly did join Senator Young and the Republicans on two other occasions during the various parliamentary votes on Gorsuch’s nomination.

 

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