Nuclear Revenge: GOP Now Obstructs Judges With Unanimous Support

March 12, 2014 12:50 p.m.

Welcome to a brave new era of trolling in the post-nuclear Senate.

Senate Republicans voted unanimously to confirm three judicial nominees on Wednesday after nearly all of them attempted — and failed — to filibuster the nominees the previous day.

The final votes were 98-0, 98-0 and 97-0, respectively, on Carolyn B. McHugh to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Matthew Leitman to be a Michigan district judge, and Judith Ellen Levy to be a Michigan district judge. If Republicans hadn’t objected to up-or-down votes on the nominees on Tuesday, the Senate wouldn’t have had to waste a day to confirm the three picks.

The Democrats’ rules change via the so-called nuclear option in November ended the 60-vote threshold to cut off debate on for non-Supreme Court nominees but preserved the minority’s right to attempt filibusters and force delays. The difference now is that ending debate — or invoking cloture — now requires a simple majority, rather than 60 votes.

At least 42 GOP senators voted to filibuster each of the three nominees on Tuesday, but failed because Democrats had the majority to move forward. Then the same Republicans voted as a bloc to confirm them on Wednesday, revealing that they had no qualms with the nominees but wanted to block them anyway.

“It’s craven and petty,” said a frustrated Senate Democratic leadership aide. “All they are doing is validating the November change in the eyes of the caucus and making reformers’ case that further changes may be necessary. It’s a short-sighted reaction that they will likely come to regret, if they don’t stop it soon.”

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Last week, 41 Republican senators voted to filibuster Pedro A. Delgado Hernandez, a nominee to be a district judge in Puerto Rico. When their attempted filibuster failed, Republicans consented to confirm him in a unanimous 98-0 vote.

It has become the new norm in the post-nuclear Senate. Until last fall, Republicans regularly mounted filibusters of high-profile nominees — judicial and executive branch — but in many cases cut deals and permitted votes on consensus picks for district and circuit courts. But ever since the Democrats’ rules change by a partisan vote, Republicans have made a habit of forcing delays on nominees, even the ones they all support.

Why? They openly admit they’re retaliating over the Democrats’ rules change. In February, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) sought consensus to hold votes on four nominees, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) shot him down on behalf of Republicans.

“My hope would be that the majority leader would choose to reverse the partisan rules change,” Cornyn said, “so that we can go back to the bipartisan cooperative process that resulted in more than 200 Obama judges being confirmed.”

The continued stalling of nominees by the minority — to say nothing of legislation, for which the 60-vote threshold is fully in tact — is why liberal advocates are clamoring for further rules changes. As of Wednesday, 153 nominations were pending on the Senate floor.

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