Filibuster Wars Return
Following a brief detente over executive branch nominations over the past few months, Republicans yesterday went back to their same old obstructionist ways.
First, Republicans used the filibuster to block an up-or-down vote on Rep. Mel Watt, who has been nominated to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, an important agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This is the first time since the Reconstruction Era that a sitting Member of Congress has been denied confirmation. Watt is also the first African-American FHFA nominee.
Republicans then filibustered the nomination of Patricia Millett for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite her sterling credentials as one of the most well-respected members of the Supreme Court bar, previous experience in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and the support of conservative legal luminaries like Ken Starr and Ted Olson.
The D.C. Circuit is second only to the Supreme Court in importance. It hears cases involving key national security issues and federal regulations like environmental and labor rules. During the Bush administration, all 11 seats on the court were happily filled by Republicans. But now that three vacancies have opened up, they are refusing to allow votes on President Obama’s nominees.
It’s no secret why — conservatives currently have a stranglehold on this important court and Republicans want to keep it that way. Of the eight current judges, four were appointed by Republicans and four were appointed by Democrats; however, five of six semi-retired senior judges who still hear cases were appointed by Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated that Obama’s nominees will be voted on again and not-so-subtly threatened to change the filibuster rules if Republicans continue their blockade.
Why Courts Matter
The last 24 hours have provided important reminders about why the courts — and federal appeals courts in particular — matter.
In Texas, a three-judge panel of conservative Bush-appointed judges overruled an earlier ruling and reinstated Texas’ draconian new restrictions on abortion. The restrictions forced about one-third of Texas abortion clinics to close. Today.
And then this morning, D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, one of Bush’s most radical appointees, issued a ruling against the Obamacare mandate that requires insurers to offer no-cost birth control.
Both of these vital cases will likely head to the Supreme Court, which also continues to be controlled by Republican-appointed justices, where they will face an uncertain fate.
BOTTOM LINE: The courts matter and it’s important that President Obama be allowed to exercise his constitutional duty to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, other federal appeals courts, and district courts. Unless more progressive judges make it on to the bench, radical judges appointed by Bush and other Republicans will continue to try and drag the country backward and undermine hard won progressive victories.
Had enough? Click HERE to tell your senators that enough is enough and it’s time to allow a vote on the president’s nominees.