That being the case, it was no surprise when Senate Republicans cried foul when Democrats threatened to dampen President Bush’s judicial nominations four years ago. Ironically, Senate Republicans have now shifted gears, threatening to use procedural blocks to stop any judicial nominees that don’t pass party muster. In a letter to President Obama, the Senate’s Republican Caucus wrote “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.”
During the last eight years of Republican Senate majority, legislators claimed that the Senate’s “advice and consent” role was limited to a simple “yea or nay” vote. These same Republican Senators now find themselves in the minority - and have changed positions. They are now threatening to use the same tools they previously denounced if their requirements aren’t met during the course of the nomination process.
Thus this week’s announcement from Senator Arlen Spector could make a significant difference. Spector’s party shift will put the Democrats within reach of a 60-seat majority that could give them control of the Senate. Pennsylvania’s Spector, a longtime Republican, said that the loss of several hundred thousand Republican voters - who left the party in 2008 to vote in the Democratic presidential primary – rendered the Pennsylvania Republican Party too conservative to support his moderate views. The Democratic Party has welcomed Spector’s decision to change teams.
This move could mean that future judicial nominees, such as recent appeals court hopeful David Hamilton, could actually be considered on the merits, avoiding the circus of partisan filibusters. Indiana’s Hamilton, who many call a moderate, is said to have the support of both Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN). Based on the record so far, threatening to filibuster Judge Hamilton’s nomination seems tantamount to partisan posturing. Of course, Senator Spector could still vote with the Republicans on any single issue, but this shift towards a 60-seat Senate Democratic majority could certainly serve to move the nomination process forward.
It is entirely possible that three Supreme Court justices will step down during the course of this presidential term. If so, the opportunity now presents itself for candidate consideration to move beyond partisan high jinks. Here’s hoping both sides of the aisle will allow that to happen.