For Obama's Second Term, Filibuster Threatens Progress

SOURCE: Flickr/s_falkow

As President Obama begins his second term his thoughts are already on his legacy. A big part of a president’s legacy is defined by the judges they appoint. But filibuster abuse by Republicans remains a significant roadblock. The filibuster has continued to be a method for legislative obstruction and much-needed reforms will likely be on the agenda for the new Congress.

By removing this roadblock to action, Congress will be freer to take the actions needed to keep our economy growing and address the needs of emerging and historically marginalized blocs of power—the young, people of color, and women- can be passed in a timely manner.

“The nature of the politics around the filibusters and the judiciary has changed radically over the course of the Obama presidency,” said Ian Millhiser, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, at an event held Nov. 8 to discuss the power and importance of the federal court system.

The filibuster, once reserved for circumstances of great controversy, has in recent years been used by the Republican party to block or delay district court appointees who were once considered shoe-ins by the Senate. According to the Senate Historical Office, since 2007 Democrats have had to end Republican filibusters more than 360 times, a disturbing record.To remedy the increased use of the filibuster, panelists offered up ideas to reform the abused parliamentary procedure.

There are two major aspects of the filibuster which lend to its impeding power:

  • It takes 60 votes in the senate to break a filibuster.
  • And even if there is a majority consensus to approve an appointee, the opposition is allowed to speak for thirty hours on why they disagree, backlogging the whole appointment process.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently stated that he intends to reform upper chamber rules in the next session of Congress. Now that the issue is on the table, Congress should consider abolishing the filibuster. However, as panelists explained, if Congress chooses not to, they could at least lower the number of votes it takes to end the filibuster or do away with the 30-hour rule, both of which would expedite the appointment process and make for a better functioning judiciary.

Progressive justices played crucial roles this year in rejecting voter suppression laws in states around the country. However, the panelists made clear that the unprecedented use of the filibuster in recent years, if continued, would jeopardize the functionality of the courts and the gains made by the progressive movement.

“We need to serve our country better and we can only do that if there is a Senate and Judiciary that actually functions, and that can only happen if the filibuster is altered or the Republicans decide they can’t behave in this way anymore,” said Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society for law and policy. If Congress can pass filibuster reform, it would be a win for the justice system and the country as a whole.

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