Poll: Most Popular Filibuster Reform Is Limiting Obstruction Of Judicial Nominees

A new Public Policy Polling poll finds overwhelming support for filibuster reform generally, and similarly strong support for specific reforms currently under discussion. The poll, which includes respondents from the ten states of Arkansas, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont, finds that 61 percent of the public wants their senator to vote to change the Senate’s rules, while only 25 percent support the status quo. Similarly, the poll finds that 62 percent support “allowing one opportunity to filibuster a bill instead of the four different opportunities to filibuster that the current Senate rules allow,” and 70 percent support a proposal to “make Senators who want to filibuster a bill have to continue to debate the bill on the Senate floor.”

The most popular reform tested by the poll, however, is ensuring that “people who have been nominated to serve as judges have an up or down vote on their nominations in a more timely manner.” 75 percent of respondents supported this proposal. Only 17 percent oppose it. This very popular reform closely resembles a proposal by President Obama in his State of the Union Address last January to guarantee every nominee an up or down vote within 90 days.

The Senate, however, does not appear to have not caught up to the President and public opinion in supporting a guaranteed timely floor vote for nominees. In an exclusive interview with ThinkProgress last week, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) expressed doubt that Obama’s proposal would receive the support of a majority of his colleagues. Merkley also proposed a more moderate reform, however, that would go a long way towards ending obstruction of federal judges.

Currently, the minority can force up to 30 hours of floor time to be wasted even after a supermajority of the Senate votes to break a filibuster on a nominee. Because Senate floor time is so precious, the mere threat of this wasted time is often enough to prevent the majority from calling a vote on nominees, even though the nominees enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support. Merkley proposed proposed reducing these 30 hours to just 2 hours, or even to no time at all — thus ensuring that the overwhelming majority of nominees, who face no meaningful opposition even from senators in the minority, will no longer be used as bargain chips in a one-sided game of obstructionism.