The last-second accord, reached by seven Democrats and seven Republicans, allows a vote on Priscilla Owen, who has been waiting for four years for Senate confirmation to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A vote on her confirmation could come as soon as Tuesday. The vote to end debate on her nomination was 81-18, far short of the 60 votes needed to continue the filibuster.
The agreement also paves the way for votes on William Pryor Jr., nominated to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Janice Rogers Brown for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Two other nominees, Henry Saad and William Myers, were left out of the agreement, and Democrats said they would continue to oppose their appointment to the federal bench.
The 11th hour agreement averted Tuesday's planned procedural move that could have changed the Senate rules to deny Democrats the ability to filibuster judicial nominees. Had the rules been changed, Democrats had pledged to shut down the body by using Senate rules to slow consideration of all other business.
A combination of mavericks, moderates and veteran senators reached the deal and emerged calling the accord in "the finest tradition of the Senate."
"We have kept the Republic," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., an ardent guard of the traditions of the Senate.
Moderate Democrat Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Conn., declared, "In a Senate that's become increasingly partisan and polarized, the bipartisan center held."
By Tuesday morning, the negotiators were standing by the late-night agreement, saying it had defused a possible congressional crisis.
"We tried to avert a crisis in the United States Senate and pull the institution back from a precipice," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told ABC's Good Morning America.
McCain, along with Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, helped hammer out the deal over the last few weeks.
Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada hailed the agreement as a constitutional triumph.
"There is good news for every American in this agreement. The so-called 'nuclear option' is off the table. This is a significant victory for our country, for democracy, and for all Americans. Checks and balances in our government have been preserved," Reid said late Monday. "Abuse of power will not be tolerated, and attempts to trample the Constitution and grab absolute control are over. We are a separate and equal branch of government."
A spokesman at the White House was more reserved, saying the settlement was a positive development.
"Many of these nominees have waited for quite some time to have an up-or-down vote and now they are going to get one. That's progress," press secretary Scott McClellan said.
The agreement was seen as a blow to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who had championed the proposed change to the Senate rules.
Frist took to the floor Monday night, telling senators he hoped that the pact would end "this unfortunate chapter in history" by limiting the use of the filibuster against judicial nominees.
Despite the deal, Frist cautioned the fight may have been only delayed.
"But with this agreement, all options remain on the table -- including the constitutional option. If it had been necessary to deploy the constitutional option, it would have been successful, and the Senate would have by rule returned to the precedent of the past 214 years. Instead, tonight, members have agreed that this precedent of up-or-down votes should be a norm of behavior as the result of mutual trust and goodwill in that agreement," he said.
Conservative activists, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, Ph.D., who had made an end to judicial filibusters a top priority, denounced the deal, saying it "represents a complete bailout and a betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats."