In 2004, frustrated by successful efforts by Senate Democrats to block 10 of President Bush’s judicial nominees, Senate Republicans threatened use the “nuclear option” to remove the minority’s right to filibuster judicial nominations. “One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominees must end,” said then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) in a speech to the Federalist Society.
But now that they are out of power and President Obama has the ability to appoint judges, Republicans are threatening a filibuster of judges if Obama doesn’t appease them. In a letter to the White House yesterday, all 41 Senate Republicans “requested that Obama respect the Senate’s constitutional role in reviewing judicial nominees by seeking their consultation about potential nominees from their respective states.” Politico explains their obstructionist threat:
“Regretfully, if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states, the Republican Conference will be unable to support moving forward on that nominee,” the letter warns. “And we will act to preserve this principle and the rights of our colleagues if it is not.”
In other words, Republicans are threatening a filibuster of judges if they’re not happy.
As RightWingWatch notes, this letter represents the GOP’s “evolving definition” of the Senate’s “advice and consent” role. For instance, in 2005, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — who signed the GOP letter — wrote:
Focusing on President Clinton’s judicial nominations in 1999, I described what has been the Senate’s historical standard for judicial nominations: “Let’s make our case if we have disagreement, and then vote.” Democrats’ new filibusters abandons this tradition and is unfair to senators who must provide the “advice and consent” the Constitution requires of them through a final up or down vote. It is also unfair to nominees who have agreed, often at personal and financial sacrifice, to judicial service only to face scurrilous attacks, trumped up charges, character assassination, and smear campaigns. They should not also be held in permanent filibuster limbo. Senators can vote for or against any judicial nominee for any reason, but senators should vote.
As RightWingWatch points out, it’s “amazing” how soon after trying to “blow up the Senate with the ‘nuclear option’ in order to get rid of the filibuster, the Republicans in the Senate are now demanding a veto over the President’s nominees and threatening to filibuster if they don’t get their way.”
But the Senate GOP’s filibuster flip-flop should come as no surprise. In fact, their opposition to judicial filibusters during the Bush years was itself a change from their previous position, which supported filibustering Democratic-appointed judges.