Mutually assured destruction is no longer a strong enough deterrent for the Republican Party.
After several years of abusing the filibuster, the time finally came to strip the minority of their defensive weapons arsenal. Thursday’s decision by Majority Leader Harry Reid to embrace the nuclear option was once an unthinkable and unpopular political move, but in recent days we have seen a proliferation of support by Senate Democrats for necessary filibuster reform.
Reid was able to reign in his caucus, with only three notable defections. This is no small feat in the wake of 39 House Democrats defying their president, and in the backdrop of a contentious midterm election season. What would have previously been a political gamble was executed with a relatively small amount of blowback. After months of obstruction, exercising the nuclear option was the only politically viable move left to restore sanity and stability in the judicial nomination process.
The 113th Congress seems determined to be immortalized in a legacy of intransigency and obfuscation. The Obama administration has encountered unprecedented and insurmountable opposition at every turn. In the last month alone, President Obama has seen all three of his overwhelmingly capable judicial nominations denied their seats on the federal bench. Robert Wilkins, Patricia Millett, and Nina Pillard are all immensely qualified to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and all three capable jurists have been thrown aside as casualties in a purely partisan political chess match. 22 Obama nominations have been filibustered or withdrawn from consideration. The politics of obstruction cannot serve the will of the people. The D.C. Circuit Court, a pipeline to the Supreme Court, is being stalled at the whim of political animals.
The real damage being done is not to the Obama administration, or the efficacy of Senate Democrats, but to our judiciary itself. The nation’s second most powerful and influential court cannot function with extended vacancies and continued uncertainty. The American people deserve a judicial system that functions wholly. For Senate Republicans to vote against the nominations of judicial candidates that they admit are qualified to serve on the bench is a violation of every constitutional principle we hold sacred, and an affront to representative democracy.
The fears of the Democratic Party and like-minded advocacy groups are recognizable. Initiating the nuclear option will serve their immediate needs, but perhaps threaten their interests in the long-term. The Republican Party, despite recent folly in national elections, will inevitably win back the White House one day. With this in mind, reasonable fears of 51 votes packing the courts with conservative judges can and should be entertained. Mindful consideration to attacks on the core beliefs of their party is understandable, but not at the expense of current functionality in governance. Such calculations must be put aside in an effort to make our judiciary whole again. Senate Democrats have been conceding the battles of the day, out of fear that it will cost them the war in the end. On Thursday, Reid made his first significant salvo against partisan gridlock. The nuclear option is said to be a weapon of last resort, but it is clear we have reached that tipping point. To ensure the progress and good work of our federal courts, the Democrats had to be willing to push the button.
Garland is a communications intern with the Department of Justice and a political science major at Montclair State University.