The United States Senate voted this week to change the filibuster rules controlling debate on executive and judicial branch nominees. Under the rule change the Senate will be able to cut off debate with a simple majority vote instead of the 60 vote rule that has been in place for several decades. The new rule does not change the procedures regarding Supreme Court nominees or votes on legislation. It will allow the president to move forward with his executive branch appointments and his nominees to the federal district courts and the circuit courts of appeals.
The Republicans moaned that this was a power grab by the Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put the vote in context when he noted that in the history of the republic 168 presidential nominees have been filibustered; and President Barack Obama's nominees made up almost half of that number. Republicans have used the 60 vote threshold on presidential nominees to nullify the president's ability to run his government. The vote this week stops the abuse of power and misuse of the Senate's role to give advice and consent on presidential nominations.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell really should not be complaining. He has reaped, if you will, what he sowed. Back in 2010, as the Obama administration was still fighting to bring this nation back to health after the financial collapse, he stated his now famous quote that the "single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term president." The quote to this day is still astounding because it continues to be difficult to understand how an elected member of the United States Senate can believe that the most important thing for the nation to do was to try to limit an elected president to one term. His desire as an elected member of the Senate was not to see the country move forward and heal the problems it faces and deliver to the nation and the people they represent good government, but to do everything in their power to prevent the President of the United States from being able to deliver to the American people the progress and prosperity they deserve.
Senator McConnell's wish was in line with the meeting that was reported by Robert Draper in his book "Do Not Ask What Good We Do." Draper wrote about a now infamous meeting of Republican leaders on the night of President Obama's 2009 inauguration to plan their "just say no" positions on every major initiative of the new president. In essence, on the night the nation was celebrating an historic occasion, they came together to make their plan to completely gridlock government and frustrate the American people.
The filibuster as a procedural tactic is a time honored tradition of the Unites States Senate. It is a move that can be used for great good. Thankfully, the rule changes to the Senate's cloture vote does not impact on the ability of any senator taking to the floor of the Senate and speaking against something that he truly believes should not become law or a nominee who should not be confirmed. Abuse of the rules should not be tolerated. This week the Senate gathered and acted to stem an abuse of rules, by the senate minority, that had its motivation and rationale imbedded in something malicious.
In 1963 when Eugene "Bull" Connor, Birmingham, Alabama's public safety commissioner, turned the fire hoses and attack dogs on its black citizen's and children who were demonstrating against Jim Crow's segregation and their second class citizenship, the nation woke up and realized that it could no longer tolerate the abuses that were being inflicted upon African Americans. Today, many realize that the rules and procedures that allowed Republicans to block the ability of President Barack Obama to choose and appoint those who were most qualified to run positions in his government and to sit on our federal courts was unprecedented in its magnitude and the United States Senate had no choice but to act in the best interest of the American People.
Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice.