Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Plum Line: Nominations Reform

Up over at Plum Line, my reaction to Barack Obama's SOTU proposal that all executive branch and judicial nominations get a "simple or down vote" within 90 days.

Generally, I'm not a huge fan of that specific plan -- I think it goes too far in weakening the Senate's role and the role of individual Senators -- but I think it's very good that Obama is at least getting engaged in the fight. Just to recap my reform preferences...on exec branch nominations, I'm for simple majority confirmation, but preserving if possible individual or small-group holds for the purposes of negotiating some specific district issue (with the Majority Leader, as he is now, empowered to decide which holds to respect). On judges, I like the guaranteed 90 day vote, but I'm OK with filibusters, especially at the appellate level, although I'm open to changing the exact supermajority needed. So: protect intense individual-Senator minorities on exec branch nominees, and intense partisan or ideological majorities on judges. On top of that, I suppose a major effort to streamline executive branch vetting.

8 comments:

  1. How do you write your preferred solution into the rules though? How would it be up to the Majority Leader which holds to respect? Isn't it up to the minority that wants to hold to come up with enough supporters of the hold that they can block motions to proceed? If you say "you can put a hold on nominees, but only if you have a good reason," the hold is only as strong as who decides how good the reason is.
    If it's the Majority Leader, then the hold is worthless, because he or she need not respect any hold, particularly those that come from the opposite side of the aisle. If it's the minority or the holding senator(s) themselves, then any reason is a good reason.

    It seems like you're asking for a norm change, not a rule change.

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    1. You're right: on this one, it wouldn't be a rule change. My feeling is that a Majority Leader could be trusted to do this honestly because Senators on both sides strongly want to preserve (individual) holds, and so a ML who violated that norm would wind up in trouble with his or her own caucus.

      That's for holds; you would need a Rule 22 change for exec branch nominations, and perhaps for judges.

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    2. I don't know. I think a Majority Leader who only respected his side's hold would be okay.

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  2. Why are you OK with filibusters? Why should a supermajority ever be required?

    Protecting "intense individual-Senator minorities" and "intense partisan or ideological majorities" seems like a really odd goal. How about protecting democratic rule or protecting constitutional responsibility?

    If you make exception for partisanship, that'll be what you get. That would be no reform at all.

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    1. Yeah, one thing to remember is that we aren't talking about "minority rights" with the filibuster-- the Senate ALREADY protects "minority rights" because you don't need a representatives of a majority of the population to block a nomination or legislation.

      What the filibuster does is allow a minority of the minority to block things.

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    2. Just to pile on a bit more: the differences in population by state are *far* more extreme now than they were in 1790. And, as far as I know, those differences continue to grow. Already nearly 1/4 of US residents lives in one of 3 states (CA, FL, TX).

      Playing with an electoral college map (http://www.270towin.com/), it's pretty easy to come up with a "Greater Appalachia/Great Plains" coalition of 20 red states that, combined, have a smaller population but slightly more electoral votes than "the big 3".

      For purposes of discussing the Senate, it's pretty easy to envision a scenario in which Senators from those "red" states---representing 1/4 of US residents---can effectively block action on a wide range of nominees.

      We've had a taste of that in recent years. Given the changing demographics of the nation, I simply don't see how it's in the national interest to have Senate rules that allow (even encourage) those who represent a tiny (mostly white, mostly older) minority to easily and regularly toss a monkey wrench into the works of government.

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  3. I used to agree with you about judges. Really. But now, given that we haven't had a judgeship bill since GHWB was pres, the number of "vacancies" dramatically understates the understaffed nature of the federal bench . . . the crisis is real. It's true that presidents shape the bench in partisan and ideological ways. But there's only so much room for that at the trial and even appellate level. At some point, it's about warm bodies, and there aren't enough Article III bodies today.

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  4. You want to protect the status-quo too much. If Congress passes laws that require the President to appoint judges or heads of agencies, then he has the right to do that in a timely fashion with a simple majority vote in the Senate. Period. The law has to be executed.

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