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GOP went too far

Published November 23. 2013 4:00AM

Both parties are to blame for the weakening of the filibuster rule in the Senate and inviting the potential for more ideological and partisan appointments to the federal courts in years to come.

It was the Democrats, by a 52-48 vote, who changed the rules, ending filibusters for judicial and executive appointments. Confirmation of a president's nominations to direct federal agencies or fill court vacancies will now require a simple majority, not the 60 votes to break a filibuster.

But it was the Republican minority, by abusing the filibuster rule, which invited this reaction by frustrated Democrats. The latest and among the most egregious examples was the Republican use of the filibuster to block all of the president's appointments to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, for no other reason than they wanted to keep a conservative majority in control of the court.

The intent of the filibuster in the Senate is to give the minority party the ability to oppose the appointment of government officials or judges that it considers ideologically extreme or not equipped for a position. In that respect, it has served as a good rule.

The Senate minority should not however use the rule to prevent the president from leading or to bring courts and agencies to a standstill. That has been the GOP strategy.

Acceleration of the filibuster to block appointments arguably began when Democrats were in the minority 2003-2005 and sought to stop or delay several nominations by President George W. Bush. Over the last several years, however, Republicans have taken things to another level. Half of all filibusters waged against court nominees in the Senate's history have taken place since the election of President Obama in 2008.

While the Democrats decision is understandable, it is still reason for concern. Exempted from the decision were U.S. Supreme Court nominations, which can still be subject to filibuster. However, will that stand, or will the party in control when future Supreme Court appointments arise - be it Democrats or Republicans - now be tempted to kill the filibuster and pave the way for a strong liberal or conservative choice?

The better option may have been a return to the "talking filibuster," requiring senators to stand up and keep talking unless 60 votes could be found to stop the debate. That would encourage the minority to employ the powerful rule only for extreme circumstances.

The filibuster rule remains in place for legislation, a good thing.

History will judge the import of this historic decision. Senate Democrats better hope they keep winning elections.

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