The choice by Senate Republicans to jam through the Supreme Court docket nomination of Amy Coney Barrett within the ultimate days earlier than the election—once they refused even to carry hearings on the nomination of Merrick Garland, in 2016—has introduced the dysfunction and the hypocrisy of the Senate to huge public discover. A protection that Republicans have supplied Democrats is: you began it. Particularly, they assert that the breakdown started with a call, in 2013, by then Majority Chief Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, to steer the hassle to abolish the filibuster for lower-court judges and different Presidential nominees. As President Donald Trump retweeted earlier this month, repeating a message from Senator Lindsey Graham, “Harry Reid & Chuck Schumer modified Senate guidelines to attempt to stack the courts for Obama. Now it’s coming again to hang-out them as I predicted.”
Reid, who retired from the Senate in 2016, has no regrets. For the previous two and a half years, he’s been battling pancreatic most cancers, at his house in Las Vegas. In a latest dialog, Reid mentioned that he has been holding the illness at bay. Largely, although, he needed to speak in regards to the Senate, the election, and Donald Trump. “I wish to get this off my chest,” Reid advised me. “Trump’s been saying what’s occurred to the Senate is all my fault, due to what we did in 2013. However it’s a must to bear in mind what was occurring on the time. Obama was President. We had the bulk, however we didn’t have sufficient to interrupt filibusters. And the Republicans have been filibustering the whole lot. For the primary time in historical past, they filibustered the nomination of a Secretary of Protection, and let’s needless to say it was Chuck Hagel, a Republican. They filibustered all of the sub-Cupboard positions, all of his judges. The federal government couldn’t perform. So we modified the rule, and I’m glad we did.”
Reid has a degree, particularly about judges. Obama had managed to fill two Supreme Court docket seats in his first time period, however by the point he was reëlected Republican filibusters had introduced the affirmation of judges to a near-total cease. Particularly, in 2013, Obama had three pending nominations for the D.C. Circuit, extensively generally known as the second-most essential courtroom within the nation, and Mitch McConnell, then the Minority Chief, was staging filibusters in opposition to all of them. In response, Reid and his Democratic colleagues modified the rule, in order that solely a easy majority, as a substitute of sixty votes, was required to shut debate on judges and Presidential appointees. The three D.C. Circuit nominees have been confirmed, as have been a number of dozen different judges earlier than the midterm elections of 2014, when Republicans gained a majority within the Senate. At that time, McConnell virtually fully shut down the affirmation of Obama’s judges. “If we hadn’t acted, Obama would have achieved nothing,” Reid mentioned. “We had no selection—zero.”
Since Reid left the Senate, the gridlock there has solely intensified. McConnell has used Reid’s change within the guidelines to push via all of Trump’s lower-court judicial nominations. (If Reid hadn’t modified the rule when Obama was President, McConnell would have completed so below Trump—and Obama would have had nearly no judges confirmed.) In an effort to push via Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court docket, McConnell led an effort to overturn the appropriate to make use of filibusters on nominations to the excessive courtroom. (Because of this Republicans want solely a easy majority—that’s, fifty of their fifty-three members—to verify Barrett. Vice-President Mike Pence would break any tied votes, though his proper to take action below the Structure is just not fully clear.)
Within the Trump years, the Senate has all however stopped passing laws. Within the first two years of Trump’s time period, when Republicans managed each homes of Congress, Democrats within the Senate filibustered most laws. Since 2018, when Democrats retook the Home, McConnell has largely prevented Senate votes on measures handed by that chamber. For probably the most half, below McConnell, the Senate has operated solely to verify judges (by majority vote) and to move budgets. (There have been temporary moments of bipartisanship, when the Senate handed payments to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, however one other invoice seems doomed.) In mild of this gridlock, a query has arisen about what to do if Joe Biden wins the Presidency and the Democrats retake the Senate. With a majority however lower than sixty votes, will Republican filibusters stop them from carrying out something?
“I believe the time has come for the filibuster to go, and it’s going to go. It’s not a query of whether or not however when,” Reid advised me. “There is no such thing as a laws handed. There are not any amendments voted on. You possibly can’t have a legislature that requires sixty per cent. It’s outlived its usefulness.” However that’s not the one structural reform that Reid desires to see handed.
Reid was the Minority Chief within the Senate when McConnell blocked the Garland nomination, on the argument that there must be no Supreme Court docket confirmations in an election 12 months. Now, after all, McConnell is main the cost for Barrett. Reid thinks that it’s time for some redress for what he regards because the theft of these two seats. Reid was a Senate institutionalist, however now he’s prepared for the Senate to contemplate some main modifications to the construction of the U.S. authorities. “Initially, the Supreme Court docket is just not a static physique. It’s not at all times been 9 members—they’ve had 5, eight, totally different numbers,” Reid mentioned. (The Court docket’s membership has been fastened at 9, by statute, since 1869.) He added, “I believe it’s time that we did one thing after the election, one thing very publicly. We should always maintain some hearings, educate the general public about this historical past. We should always present that we’ve modified the variety of Justices up to now, and we might must do it once more.”