Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the senior-most member of the Senate, has a warning for his Republican colleagues — either they back off their efforts to maintain Republican control over a powerful federal court, or they could lose their ability to filibuster judicial nominees forever. Currently, most Senate Republicans plan to filibuster all three of President Obama’s nominees to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often citing misleading statistics to claim that no more judges are needed on this, the second most powerful court in the country. If these filibusters succeed, it will maintain GOP dominance over a court that blocked environmental regulations which would prevent tens of thousands of deaths and that at one point threatened to shut down nearly all federal legal protections for unionized workers.
On Tuesday, however, Leahy warned that if these three nominees are successfully filibustered “I think that the pressure on changing the rules would be almost insurmountable.” Last July, Senate Democrats came within a hair of pulling the trigger on the so-called “nuclear opinion,” a procedural maneuver that allows the Senate’s rules to be changed with just a simple majority vote, though they backed off after Republicans stopped blocking confirmations to seven top government jobs.
Leahy’s warning to his GOP colleagues is particularly significant because more senior Democrats have historically been more reluctant to support filibuster reform than the more junior members of the Democratic caucus. Now, however, the most senior member of the caucus is threatening reform relatively early in the fight to confirm the three D.C. Circuit nominees.