He did it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, once a defender of Senate tradition, triggered the so-called nuclear option Thursday by pushing through a rule change to allow the confirmation of most presidential nominees by a simple majority. The final straw was the Republicans' filibustering of three of President Obama's nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, on the transparent pretext that the court was underworked and should have fewer members.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board long has opposed the filibuster, regardless of which party occupied the White House or controlled the Senate. In June, after Senate Republicans made it clear that they would block Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit, we wrote:
"The bottom line is this: There is only one president at a time, and that president's judicial nominations deserve considerable deference from senators of both parties provided that a nominee is professionally well qualified and holds views that place him or her within a broad philosophical mainstream. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) correctly observed when he voted for Sonia Sotomayor, one of Obama's Supreme Court nominees: 'Judge Sotomayor is definitely a more liberal judge than a Republican president would have nominated, but elections have consequences.' (Graham violated his own principle earlier this year when he joined in filibustering Caitlin Halligan, an Obama nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court, who was opposed by the National Rifle Assn. Halligan has since withdrawn.)
"If Obama nominates three qualified candidates for the remaining vacancies on the D.C. Circuit and Republicans filibuster or drag their feet, pressure will increase on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to revisit the issue of the 'nuclear option.' That's Washington-speak for a parliamentary maneuver in which, by majority vote, the Senate would determine that a filibuster of judicial nominations was unconstitutional. If that were to occur, a judge could be confirmed by a simple majority.
"Senate Republicans flirted with the nuclear option during the Bush administration, but abandoned it when the so-called Gang of 14 senators reached an agreement that judicial nominees could be filibustered only in "extraordinary circumstances." That understanding obviously has collapsed. If a similar arrangement is not worked out in this Congress, Reid should revive the nuclear option. Regardless of the party of the president, his nominees are entitled to expeditious up-and-down votes."