President Obama won and the Democrats increased their majority in the Senate – and moved it in a far more progressive direction. For now, the Supreme Court is safe from radical right-wing ideology.
But to guarantee its safety for future generations, Harry Reid must take decisive and historic action on day one of the new Senate term. He must end or radically reform the filibuster.
The filibuster is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution – it’s something, in its modern form, the Founders knew nothing about. It requires 60 votes in a 100-vote Senate to end debate and move on to a vote – and Republicans have used it over 370 times during Harry Reid’s tenure. For comparison, Lyndon Johnson was Senate majority leader for the same period of time as Reid, in an incredibly turbulent time, and only had to deal with one, single Republican filibuster.
Over his second-term, President Obama will have a chance to appoint one or two or as many as four new Supreme Court justices, along with a slew of new federal judges around the nation. But the Republican filibuster, which lets a minority of Republicans to block all of these new judges, will drastically reduce the quality of jurists the President can nominate.
When it comes just to district judges nominated by President Obama during his first-term, the Republican minority in the Senate filibustered two-thirds of them. And now, with their back against the wall, expect Republicans to keep it up – especially when it comes to the Supreme Court.
Harry Reid himself knows something needs to be done. In a Senate floor speech in May earlier this year, Reid praised Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Merkeley, who desperately tried to pass filibuster reform at the beginning of 2011. “These two young, fine senators said it was time we changed the rules in the Senate, and we didn’t,” Reid said. “They were right. The rest of us were wrong — or most of us now anyway. What a shame.”
Now, Reid has a chance to correct this mistake. He’ll also have some new support. Many of the new Democratic Senators who were elected or re-elected on Tuesday night have endorsed filibuster reform. Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, Tim Kaine in Virginia, Chris Murphy in Connecticut – all of them favor doing away with the filibuster in its current form.
On Day One of the new Senate term, there will be a small window of a few hours open for Harry Reid and Democrats to reform the filibuster and all it will take to do it is 51 votes – a simple majority. Considering Democrats could be entering the new Senate with as many as 55 votes, then this is a real possibility. They just have to have the courage to do it.
Republicans didn’t even have enough of a back-bone back in 2005 to reform the filibuster when they held a slight majority. They called reforming the filibuster the “nuclear option” and, in the end, House Majority Leader Bill Frist decided not to move forward with it out of fear that could elicit a backlash from Democrats that could spoil Bush’s second-term agenda. He also knew that Democrats at that time only rarely used the filibuster.
There is a valid concern by Democrats that reforming the filibuster could end up biting them, should Republicans take back the Senate. But we can’t ignore what Tuesday night taught us. In the Republican Party, the moderate at the top of the ticket lost, and so did the extremists in Senate races across the nation. Today, the Republican Party has been rejected by the American people, both because demographics are changing and Conservatives are increasingly looking like fossils.
This was a wave election. Against all odds, Democrats added to their majority in the Senate and even pushed the party to the left with new progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin.
The most vocal Tea Party freshmen in the House – crazies like Rep. Allen West in Florida and Rep. Joe Walsh in Illinois – were shown the door by voters, while an outspoken progressive like Alan Grayson will be returning to the House of Representatives next year.
Marriage equality went undefeated. And, in a serious blow to the drug war, marijuana legalization efforts succeeded. And anti-tax ballots in Michigan, Florida, and Oregon were rejected by voters, while in California voters approved a tax increase on the rich.
All of this indicates the nation is moving back to rationality. Those movements that began in Madison, Wisconsin, and then grew into the Occupy movement are still in their infancy, but their effect on the nation can’t be dismissed today – equality, economic justice, and progressivism all won on Election Day.
Something is happening in this country and Harry Reid must seize on to it by passing filibuster reform to ensure that this progressive movement can freely march forward without Republican relics in the Senate obstructing it.
And even if Republicans do take power in the Senate again in the future, and there is no filibuster, at least we’ll know President Obama, when he had the chance, was able to put in place a strong flank of progressive judges that will last a generation. And those judges will serve for decades compared to a Republican majority which will only serve two years. In the long-run, it will still be better.
Ultimately though, this election proves that progressivism is still alive, and the nation wants progressive judges to interpret law for the next generation. President Obama will have the power to do just that, but if Harry Reid doesn’t kill the filibuster first so progressive judges can survive the nominating process, then we’ll end up getting a bunch of Joe Liebermans on the bench. And that ain’t progress.