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Robert Reich: A Time for Harry Reid’s Backbone

May 31, 2013

A president’s court picks shouldn’t require sixty Senate votes.

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Image from Flickr via afagen

By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich

Don’t be sidetracked today with the news of Michelle Bachmann’s decision not to run again. That’s small potatoes relative to the biggest political and economic issue—and showdown—emerging in Congress.

Some background: The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit isn’t just the main feeder into the Supreme Court (four of the current nine justices served there before ascending to the Supremes); even more critically, it is the court that reviews most major federal regulations—those emerging under Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, the Environmental Protection Agency, and hundreds of other laws and agencies.

Four of its current judges were appointed by Republican presidents; three by Democrats. It has three vacancies. Senate Republicans want to keep the current ratio of four to three, and have no interest in giving Obama a majority on this important court. They’ve held up almost all of Obama’s court appointments, sometimes for years, effectively preventing him from putting his picks in the federal court system as elsewhere.

Now the President is nominating judges to fill all three of these crucial D.C. court of appeals vacancies at once. He’s also looking ahead at the strong probability that at least one Supreme Court justice, most likely Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will retire within the next two years, and he’ll need to get a replacement through the Senate.

The Constitution is quite specific about when “super-majorities” are needed, and makes no mention of super-majorities for court appointments.

Senate Republicans under the cynical direction of Mitch McConnell have abused the filibuster system, preventing votes on almost everything the President has wanted.

Harry Reid punted on changing the filibuster rules, but he could—and in my view now should—propose changing them for judicial appointments, which he can accomplish with the votes of fifty-one senators.

A president’s court picks shouldn’t require sixty Senate votes. The Constitution is quite specific about when “super-majorities” are needed, and makes no mention of super-majorities for court appointments.

Reid is not known for his strong backbone, but here’s an instance where he owes his backbone to posterity. You might even write to him and tell him so.

Robert B. Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

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