Senate Votes to Limit the Filibuster

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In a move that there is absolutely no chance they will ever regret making, Senate Democrats today managed to push through a rule change that now makes it impossible to filibuster cabinet and judicial nominations (except for seats on the Supreme Court, at least for now). These can now be approved with a simple majority vote.

Each side has been blabbing about doing this for years, not surprisingly tending to feel most strongly about it when their side is in the majority and is getting filibustered, and then losing interest when they are the ones doing the filibustering. This time the issue came to a head because Republicans were holding up nominees to the D.C. Circuit, the second most important federal court in the nation. Democrats also believe, according to this guy, that their prospects in 2016 if not 2014 are so good that they are willing to take the risk that they won't lose the thin majority they now hold, thereby handing the stick they just carved over to the other side to beat them with.

What could go wrong?

This is not to say the filibuster is necessarily a great thing. It's not in the Constitution, it's just a procedural rule that the Senate created for itself. But it has been around for a long time—the rule change making it possible happened in 1806, according to Constitution Daily. On the other hand, it's not like anybody really thought it through at the time:

Political scientist Sarah Binder testified before the Senate in 2010 about the origin of the filibuster, with its Founding Father as the outgoing Vice President, Aaron Burr.

Binder said Burr told the Senate in 1805 that it should eliminate a rule that automatically cut off floor debate, called the previous question motion, because he thought it wasn't needed.

"So when Aaron Burr said 'get rid of the previous question motion,' the Senate didn’t think twice. When they met in 1806, they dropped the motion from the Senate rule book," she said.

A perfectly good reason to do something, of course, because Aaron Burr never made a bad decision in his life. (Maybe they didn't want to make him mad.)

The first actual filibuster did not happen until 1837, but it eventually became an established tradition that has been used more and more over the years. Its removal is, for better or worse, a Big Deal. But again, a totally risk-free strategy for Democrats, as long as they are never again in the minority.