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November 22, 2013

Senate Democrats Invoke “Nuclear Option” for Judicial Nominees

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Democrats in the Senate have invoked the so-called “nuclear option,” allowing them to confirm the president’s nominations for judgeships with a simple majority vote, overturning decades of Senate precedent that required 60 votes to overcome a filibuster on nominees. A filibuster is a prolonged speech that can continue until “three-fifths” of the senators vote to end it. It is a rule that the party in the minority can use to block laws or votes supported by only a “simply majority” of 51 votes.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blamed the action on Republicans, who he said have abused the confirmation process.

“The American people are fed up with this kind of obstruction and gridlock. In the history of our country, some 230-plus years, there have been 168 filibusters of executive and judicial nominations. Half of them have occurred during the Obama administration,” he said.

The rule change passed by a vote of 52 to 48, with all Republican senators and three Democrats opposed.

“This was nothing more than a power grab in order to try to advance the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda, and they just broke the Senate rules in order to exercise the power grab,” said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

President Obama praised the vote, saying that both parties have misused filibusters, but that Republicans have been using them in an especially reckless and relentless way.

“Today’s pattern of obstruction, it just isn’t normal. It’s not what our founders envisioned,” he said. “A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the results of the election is not normal, and for the sake of future generations, we can’t let it become normal.”


Warm up questions
  1. How many senators are there in the U.S. Senate?
  2. Why is 51 an important number in the Senate? Why is 60 an important number?
  3. What is a filibuster?
  4. Why does the Senate need to confirm the people that the president nominates to be judges?
Discussion questions
  1. Do you agree with the Senate’s vote to change the rules to make it easier to confirm presidential appointments? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think Republicans have filibustered so many of the president’s nominees?
  3. Republicans argue that the filibuster rules are necessary to prevent the tyranny of the majority over the minority. What does that mean? Do you think it is necessary?
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