THE BLOG
11/25/2013 12:20 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

Democrats End GOP's Tyranny of the Minority Over Obama's Picks

The GOP predictably wailed that Senate Democrats imposed the tyranny of the majority when by a near strict partisan vote it changed the filibuster rule to permit federal judicial and executive office appointments to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. The GOP got it exactly backward. Far from it being a case of the Democrats riding roughshod over the Republican majority and ramming its appointees through, it was the GOP's tyranny of a minority that shamelessly abused the nomination process to stonewall President Obama's judicial nominees.

The GOP would have the public believe several falsehoods to prove its case. One is that Obama has been dictator-like in his judicial appointments and not given any consideration to the Senate in making his picks. The fact is that Obama, as every other president, must abide by the letter of the Constitution which is explicit that "the president is required to nominate new judges, subject, of course, to the advice and consent of the Senate." This is not a legislative, and certainly not a partisan political debate point. Next there's the crass, naked and cynical recent history of how the GOP has used the filibuster to wage political war on Obama's (and Clinton before him) judicial nominees. Both Democratic presidents had stall and rejection rates on their nominees that were much lower than that of GOP President George W. Bush's picks. The difference wasn't solely in the number and percentage disparity in the court nominees confirmed of Democratic and Republican presidents. It was also in the speed of the confirmation of their nominees.

It took the Senate on average 18 days to take a vote on Bush's court picks. When Obama submitted the names of his judicial court picks, it has taken 132 days on average to get a Senate vote on them. That's if there is a vote at all. In quick succession GOP senators blocked a confirmation vote on three Obama's picks to federal court positions. Two of them were to the D.C. Court of Appeals which is widely considered a steppingstone to a Supreme Court nomination.

The other falsehood that the GOP has peddled to justify its cynical use of the filibuster to block Obama's picks is that it wants to preserve the impartiality of the federal bench and insure that Obama's judicial picks are not political handmaidens of the administration. The truth is just the opposite. The GOP wants judges that are political handmaidens of the GOP. This was glaringly apparent in its dither on the Obama's picks to the D.C. Appeals court. Five of the ranking judges were appointed by Republican presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George Bush, and the court leans decidedly conservative in its rulings and opinions on key cases. All still hear cases on the court. The GOP is deathly afraid that the appointment of judges that are considered moderate would tilt the ideological balance of the court against it.

As long as the filibuster remained locked in place as a blatant hammer against Obama's court picks, the GOP sent two messages. One, is that it would continue its full-throated campaign to obstruct, impugn, and frustrate Obama's policy initiatives. This importantly includes hitting at one of his more vulnerable and politically sensitive points, and that's his judicial appointees. The other message is that Obama's court appointees potentially represent a direct threat to the GOP's three decade long effort to pack the federal judiciary from the Supreme Court to federal circuit courts with conservative, strict constructionist judges. The strategy so far has worked marvelously.

Conservative judges have shown they can obstruct or torpedo Obama administration policies with their anti-environmental, anti-gun control, and pro-corporate rulings. The topper is the Supreme Court where the five conservative judges appointed by the Bushes have been the most blatant, conservative activist judges in recent court history.

The GOP's relentless obstructionism forced Obama to leave dozens of judicial court positions vacant. It was almost why bother to put names up for confirmation if the administration knew that unless they met the GOP's ideological litmus test for a court pick for the most part they were DOA the instant their names were submitted. This made it even more difficult to get qualified individuals to fill the posts since many knew that they might have to wait in limbo before being considered, if at all.

This malicious obstructionism almost certainly would have continued through every minute of every day of the final three years of Obama's administration if a determined band of Democratic senators hadn't put their parliamentary foot down and said enough is enough and pushed through the rule change. The GOP will continue to scream that their act was a naked demonstration of the danger of the tyranny of the majority. It wasn't. It simply ended the far worse tyranny of the minority against Obama's court picks.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?