Harry Drops the Bomb

Well Harry Reid went nuclear, as he’d threatened to do all week. And by a vote of 52-48, Senate Democrats did his bidding just a couple of hours ago. I wrote about his hypocrisy at NRO this morning. He’s the same Harry Reid who assured us only a few months ago that “We’re not talking about changing the filibuster rules that relates to nominations for judges” (Press Briefing, 7/11/13) and “We’re not touching judges. That’s what they were talking about. This is not judges.” (NBC’s “Meet The Press,” 7/14/13). Well we are talking about judges. And we’ll be talking about them quite a bit more, I’m afraid.

The Democratic hypocrisy on the subject boils down to this. After sitting on George W. Bush’s appellate court nominees during his first two years when they controlled the Senate—never even holding hearings—Democrats for the next two years, after losing the Senate in the 2002 midterm elections, conducted unprecedented filibusters of Bush’s appellate court picks—all of which ended only with the “Gang of 14” compromise in 2005. But now that the Republican minority has used that same practice—directed this session only at the latest D.C. Circuit nominees—Democrats have moved to strip it from them—and not by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, as Senate rules require, but by a simple majority. It’s heads I win, tails you lose.

But it doesn’t end there. After Obama’s nominee Sri Srinivasen was unanimously confirmed for the D.C. Circuit last May, Republicans have filibustered Obama’s three latest nominees for that circuit for practical reasons, not for the ideological reasons that drove Democratic filibusters. As I outlined in my NRO piece, there simply isn’t enough work in the D.C. Circuit to justify three more judges. For 17 straight years that court has had the lowest number of appeals filed and the lowest number of appeals terminated of all the circuits.

So what’s the upshot of Reid’s move? The most obvious one is this: If Harry Reid is willing to drop the nuclear bomb for these three nominees—given all that that implies about the sanctity of Senate rules—he must be expecting some return. It’s not for nothing that the D.C. Circuit Court is called the second most important court in the land. It’s the court that will be deciding challenges to the vast executive branch “lawmaking” by which the Obama administration today is ruling America, covering everything from health care to environmental regulations, labor arrangements, financial affairs, and so much more. With a divided Congress, Obama can’t get things done the constitutional way, so he rules by diktat—and hopes the courts will uphold his unilateral decisions. Given the docket of the D.C. Circuit, rule by executive order just got easier.

But Obama has three more years to name judges for the other circuits as well, and possibly for the Supreme Court, and that got easier for him too. And of course it’s now easier to change other Senate rules by a simple majority. But what goes around comes around. And the way the polls are going in the wake of the Obamacare debacle, the Senate itself, already in play, may be more so come next November. If it turns out that way, Republicans should have no scruples about playing by the same opportunistic rules the Democrats have seen fit to employ. As is said, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.