Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., have been advocates of reforming the filibuster since they joined the U.S. Senate in 2009. In that time, Senate Republicans have consistently filibustered legislation and nominees, making it necessary for 60 votes to break a filibuster on nearly all matters in front of the Senate.
A deal struck at the beginning of the current Congress said that Republicans would only filibuster in “extraordinary circumstances.” This was to head off a significant change or even outright elimination of the filibuster. However, Republicans have continued regular use of the filibuster in the Senate.
The latest flash point has come with Republicans refusing to allow any nominees of President Barack Obama to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court. There are currently three vacant judgeships on the court and Republicans say that allowing any Obama nominees to the court would be allowing Obama to stack the court in his favor.
The latest was district court judge Robert Wilkins. From the Associated Press:
The Senate voted 53-38 in favor of ending Republican-led delays, falling short of the 60 votes required to advance Wilkins’ nomination. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine voted with Democrats to end debate.
Obama noted after the vote that four of the six nominees by former President George W. Bush were named to the court, while four of Obama’s five nominees have been rejected without an up or down vote.
This is one reason why Udall continues to discuss filibuster reform, including on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
“This breakdown in Senate norms is profound. There is now a risk that the Senate is creating a new, 60-vote confirmation standard,” Udall said. “The Constitution plainly requires no more than a majority vote to confirm…Exercising the constitutional option in response to judicial nomination filibusters would restore the Senate to its longstanding norms and practices governing judicial nominations, and guarantee that a minority does not transform the fundamental nature of the Senate’s advice and consent responsibility.”
The “constitutional option” was something that Udall proposed at the beginning of the current Congress along with Merkley.