Washington Sketch: Republican senators do an about-face on judicial filibusters
In their quest to thwart President Obama, Republicans do not fear the hobgoblin of consistency.
For much of this decade, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, now the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, led the fight against Democratic filibusters of George W. Bush's judicial nominees. He decried Democrats' "unprecedented, obstructive tactics." To have Bush nominees "opposed on a partisan filibuster, it is really wrong," he added. He demanded they get "an up-and-down vote." He praised Republican leaders because they "opposed judicial filibusters" and have "been consistent on this issue even when it was not to their political benefit to do so."
So now a Democratic president is in the White House and he has nominated his first appellate judicial nominee, U.S. District Judge David Hamilton. And what did Sessions do? He went to the floor and led a filibuster.
"I opposed filibusters before," the Alabaman said with his trademark twang. But in this case, he went on, "I don't agree with his judicial philosophy. Therefore, I believe this side cannot acquiesce into a philosophy that says that Democratic presidents can get their judges confirmed with 50 votes."
Ten of the Senate's 40 Republicans, attempting some measure of consistency, parted ways with Sessions and voted with Democrats in a resounding 70 to 29 vote to break the filibuster. But the rest abandoned their deeply held views of just a few years ago.
There was, for example, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). Back in 2005, he demanded "a simple up-or-down vote" for nominees and urged the Democrats to "move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent." He declared that Democrats wanted to "take away the power to nominate from the president and grant it to a minority of 41 senators."
On Tuesday, McConnell voted to sustain the filibuster.
There was also Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), who in 2005 gave his considered opinion that "neither filibusters nor supermajority requirements have any place in the confirmation process."
On Tuesday, Brownback voted in favor of filibusters.
And there was Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who warned four years ago that "if the filibuster becomes an institutional response where 40 senators driven by special interest groups declare war on nominees in the future, the consequence will be that the judiciary will be destroyed over time."
On Tuesday, Graham voted to institutionalize the filibuster.