Nov. 21, 2013 - In a controversial and historic vote, the United States Senate has changed its rules in order to limit the minority’s ability to block presidential nominees from taking office. Traditionally, most Senate action is vulnerable to “filibustering” – that is, lengthy debate that is often used by senators in the minority to obstruct the majority’s agenda. Overcoming a filibuster ordinarily requires a supermajority vote, or 60 out of 100 senators, which is difficult to achieve on many matters that divide the two political parties. But under the new rules established today, a simple majority of 51 senators can approve nominations to the lower federal courts and executive offices. The change was triggered by Republican senators’ opposition to President Obama’s nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The new rules do not apply to Supreme Court nominations or ordinary legislation, both of which continue to require supermajority support.
University of Houston Law Center Associate Professor Aaron-Andrew P. Bruhl has written about Senate procedure (articles available here) and is available for comment.
According to Bruhl, “The Senate’s action has significant implications. In the short run, the change means that President Obama will have a much easier time appointing his preferred candidates to executive posts and the lower federal courts, a task that has often been difficult due to Republican opposition. Over the longer term, the Nov. 21 vote could lead to the total demise of the filibuster for all Senate decisions, weakening the power of the Senate minority.”
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