Number Two Senate Democrat Says Senate Should Reopen Filibuster Reform

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL)

After the Senate Republican minority blocked allowing an up-or-down vote on a completely qualified judicial nominee Wednesday, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) suggested it may be time to re-open the conversation on filibuster reform. A proposal to doing so — dubbed the “constitutional option” by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) — was suggested by Senate Republicans as recently as 2005.

Durbin said in a floor speech:

We have tried at the beginning of this Senate session to avoid this kind of filibuster confrontation. The last several years we have had over 400 filibusters — a record number of filibusters in the Senate. I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we’re headed, we need to revisit the rules again. We need to go back to it again. I’m sorry to say it because I — was hopeful that a bipartisan approach to dealing with these issues would work. It’s the best thing for this chamber, for the people serving here and the history of this institution. But if this Caitlin Halligan nomination is an indication of things to come, we’ve got to revisit the rules.

In 2005, Senate Republicans slammed what they called the “unconstitutional” filibuster of President Bush’s nominees. They proposed a mid-session rules change to eliminate the power of the minority to block nominees with majority support. This “constitutional option” was only dropped when a bipartisan group agreed to only filibuster nominees in the most extreme circumstances.

Earlier this year, several Democratic Senators proposed significant changes to the Senate rules permitting minority obstruction of legislation and confirmation votes. Rather than pushing major changes, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reached an agreement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for a very modest set of reforms.

Already this year, Senate Republicans have filibustered a bill to limit the harms of the sequester, the confirmation of a former Republican colleague to be Secretary of Defense, and — as of Wednesday — the confirmation of John Brennan to be CIA director.

Wednesday marked the second time, Senate Republicans have blocked a confirmation vote for Caitlin Halligan, an Obama nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, dating back to 2011. As 41 Senate Republicans voted to filibuster her, only Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted to give her an up-or-down vote.