In 2010, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously said: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." The senators failed at their top priority, but using the filibuster more than 130 times, they did prevent the federal government from carrying out responsibilities like speedy justice: Filibusters have prevented votes on a series of judicial nominees, leaving vacancies on the bench all over the country. Businesses and individuals needing action by the federal courts have been harmed.
It came to a head Thursday after Republicans once again blocked Obama's picks to fill three vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, one of the more influential appeals courts in the nation. The court currently has eight judges four Republicans and four Democrats and GOP leaders wanted to keep a balance. But presidents always get to nominate judges, and they choose primarily from their own party. Obama's choices are highly qualified. That is usually the standard for Senate confirmation of all but unusually controversial picks, or of course Supreme Court nominees.
For now, the shift in filibuster rules will only apply to nominees for cabinet posts and the federal judiciary. Let's see if it prompts more reasonable consideration of other issues that come before the Senate and, in better times, were treated in a less partisan way.
McConnell called Reid's move a Democratic ploy to distract Americans from the party's health care reform problems. Hogwash. But the health care mess may have motivated Democrats to finally get moving on the courts, a problem they could solve.
The U.S. Senate functioned for more than 100 years without a single filibuster. We're not fond of invoking the Founding Fathers at every turn, but we think they'd have been on Reid's side Thursday.