ICYMI: Judicial Vacancies & Additional State Voices Call for Senate Rules Reform

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Washington, DC – A renewed focus on federal judiciary vacancies and additional state voices are joining the growing ranks of those calling for U.S. Senate rules reform. Developments in recent days include:
Judicial Vacancies Make Case for Reform: Robert Barnes of the Washington Post writes, “There are more vacancies on the federal courts now than when Obama took office nearly four years ago. And he is the first president in generations to fail to put a nominee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the second most influential court in the land and traditionally a training ground for Supreme Court justices.” The article echoes the findings in a recent Alliance for Justice (AFJ) report, which found that “nearly one out of eleven federal judgeships is vacant.” 
On the Post’s “Plum Line” blog, Jonathan Bernstein notes that the judicial vacancy storyline “fits the rest of the Senate story, which is that filibusters were rare up until 1993, became the common practice on all major items at that point, and then were ratcheted up again by Republicans when Barack Obama became president. This insistence on a 60 vote Senate for everything, and in delaying even totally uncontroversial nominations (so that some are delayed for weeks or more, only to wind up receiving unanimous or near-unanimous approval) is exactly why Senate reform is so urgent.”  As a result, a key provision of a potential rules reform package should address the nominations process, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.
State Voices Highlight Need for Reform: 
o Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial, “Filibuster in Need of Major Overhaul:” “As currently practiced, the filibuster is a cynical affront to voters and to the precepts of representative democracy. It does not extend debate in a meaningful way. It does not make the Senate a deliberative body. It does more harm than good. It should be reformed at the earliest possible moment.”
o OregonLive article, “U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley Battles to Limit Rampant ‘Abuse of the Filibuster’”: “Unlike earlier eras when filibusters were used to stop amendments and legislation during debate, filibusters today are used routinely to block legislation from even reaching the Senate floor…From 2007 through 2012, silent objections to the motion to proceed have been raised 130 times. Each one requires 60 votes to erase. By comparison, the number between 1971 and 1982 was 18.”
o Lewiston Sun Journal (ME) article, “King Looks Forward to Next Session of U.S. Senate”: Maine’s newly-elected Senator Angus King (I) said, “Where we are now is not acceptable…386 filibusters in the last five years is not the way the U.S. Senate was designed to work…This is what the people of Maine sent me down there for. Everything I heard in the campaign was, 'Go down there and get something done.'”
George Will Recycles GOP Talking Points: In his recent syndicated column on the filibuster and the current rules reform debate, Will misstates the intent of Senate rules reformers, mischaracterizes the need for reform, and misleads on the actual history of the filibuster.  Will describes the goal of rules reform as making the Senate “more like the House of Representatives.” 
In fact, the package of Senate reforms backed by the Fix the Senate Now coalition would preserve the rights and voice of the minority party, while prioritizing debate over obstruction. This would return the upper chamber to its traditions and norms – it is the recent obstruction that is out of line with Senate history.  Will also parrots Senate Republicans like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) by wrongly describing the constitutional option as “breaking Senate rules.” However, as the Brennan Center for Justice explains:  “[The] Senate’s authority to change its rules by a majority vote stems directly from the Constitution.”  
For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org 
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Washington, DC – A renewed focus on federal judiciary vacancies and additional state voices are joining the growing ranks of those calling for U.S. Senate rules reform. Developments in recent days include:

Judicial Vacancies Make Case for Reform: Robert Barnes of the Washington Post writes, “There are more vacancies on the federal courts now than when Obama took office nearly four years ago. And he is the first president in generations to fail to put a nominee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the second most influential court in the land and traditionally a training ground for Supreme Court justices.” The article echoes the findings in a recent Alliance for Justice (AFJ) report, which found that “nearly one out of eleven federal judgeships is vacant.” 

On the Post’s “Plum Line” blog, Jonathan Bernstein notes that the judicial vacancy storyline “fits the rest of the Senate story, which is that filibusters were rare up until 1993, became the common practice on all major items at that point, and then were ratcheted up again by Republicans when Barack Obama became president. This insistence on a 60 vote Senate for everything, and in delaying even totally uncontroversial nominations (so that some are delayed for weeks or more, only to wind up receiving unanimous or near-unanimous approval) is exactly why Senate reform is so urgent.”  As a result, a key provision of a potential rules reform package should address the nominations process, including shortening the amount of time required for debate once a nomination is brought to the Senate floor.

State Voices Highlight Need for Reform

  • Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial, “Filibuster in Need of Major Overhaul:” “As currently practiced, the filibuster is a cynical affront to voters and to the precepts of representative democracy. It does not extend debate in a meaningful way. It does not make the Senate a deliberative body. It does more harm than good. It should be reformed at the earliest possible moment.”

  • OregonLive article, “U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley Battles to Limit Rampant ‘Abuse of the Filibuster’”: “Unlike earlier eras when filibusters were used to stop amendments and legislation during debate, filibusters today are used routinely to block legislation from even reaching the Senate floor…From 2007 through 2012, silent objections to the motion to proceed have been raised 130 times. Each one requires 60 votes to erase. By comparison, the number between 1971 and 1982 was 18.”

  • Lewiston Sun Journal (ME) article, “King Looks Forward to Next Session of U.S. Senate”: Maine’s newly-elected Senator Angus King (I) said, “Where we are now is not acceptable…386 filibusters in the last five years is not the way the U.S. Senate was designed to work…This is what the people of Maine sent me down there for. Everything I heard in the campaign was, 'Go down there and get something done.'”

George Will Recycles GOP Talking Points: In his recent syndicated column on the filibuster and the current rules reform debate, Will misstates the intent of Senate rules reformers, mischaracterizes the need for reform, and misleads on the actual history of the filibuster.  Will describes the goal of rules reform as making the Senate “more like the House of Representatives.” 

  • In fact, the package of Senate reforms backed by the Fix the Senate Now coalition would preserve the rights and voice of the minority party, while prioritizing debate over obstruction. This would return the upper chamber to its traditions and norms – it is the recent obstruction that is out of line with Senate history.  Will also parrots Senate Republicans like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) by wrongly describing the constitutional option as “breaking Senate rules.” However, as the Brennan Center for Justice explains:  “[The] Senate’s authority to change its rules by a majority vote stems directly from the Constitution.”  

 

To access the PPP polling results on Senate rules reform, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/AggregatedResults.pdf

Click here to view a copy of the sign-on letter from 51 national organizations laying out important provisions for real Senate rules reform

For more on the need for Senate rules reform, please visit www.fixthesenatenow.org  


Contact: Michael Earls at 202-261-2388, media@fixthesenatenow.org

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