For 17 days in October Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives tied Congress into knots over the federal budget. Within days of resolving that crisis with some talk of bipartisanship in Congress, Republicans in the Senate were back at it with a filibuster to block confirmation of two of the president’s appointments.
Fifty-six senators voted to confirm Melvin Watt to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and 55 voted to confirm Patricia Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But the nominations needed 60 votes to end the Republican filibuster, so both were defeated.
In Watt’s case, the Senate filibuster stuck a thumb in the eye of not just the president but the House, where he is a representative from North Carolina.
The filibuster of Millett’s confirmation violates the 2005 bipartisan deal that limited filibusters of judicial confirmations to “extraordinary circumstances.” To hear some senators, this appointment apparently meets that test, because Millett would add a liberal vote to the D.C. Circuit.
This is a preposterous reason for blocking any judicial nominee, and the Democrats who hold a slim majority in the Senate have threatened to blow up the filibuster rule. That is precisely what they should do. Nothing in the Constitution requires more than a majority vote to confirm appointments.
Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn warned that Democrats would regret a rule allowing simple majority approval for judicial confirmations if Republicans control the Senate and White House. “Then we could confirm another (Justice Antonin) Scalia, another (Justice Clarence) Thomas with 51 votes. So I think they need to think twice, and I think they understand that.”
Apparently Cornyn forgets that however much the Democrats objected to those Republican Supreme Court nominees, they did not filibuster either one. Indeed, Scalia was confirmed 98-0, and Thomas was approved by a 52-48 margin that included 11 Democrats.