Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Shameless Schumer Lies About Supreme Court Filibuster

Three years ago, when Senate Democrats abolished the filibuster for lower-court and executive-branch nominees, they left it in place for Supreme Court nominees.

According to the raw MSNBC transcript of his press conference today, incoming Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is now claiming that Senate Democrats “did not change the rules for [the] supreme court because we thought on something as important as this there should be some degree of bipartisan agreement.”

Baloney. As Roll Call (and others) reported at the time:

There’s long been concern among some supporters of abortion rights about deploying the nuclear option for lifetime appointments to the federal bench, because a Republican White House could team up with a future GOP-led Senate to confirm judicial nominees hostile to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

This concern of abortion supporters obviously applied much more heavily to Supreme Court nominations than to lower-court picks, so the Senate Democrats’ resolution was to defer abolition of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees until the midst of a confirmation battle in which abolition would plainly advantage supporters of Roe.

That’s exactly why Democratic leader Harry Reid was crowing just two weeks before the election that Democrats would abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court justices if Republicans tried to filibuster a Hillary Clinton nominee. From a Talking Points Memo article from October 24:

Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he is confident that he has laid the groundwork for Democrats to nuke the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees if they win back the Senate in November.

Envisioning Hillary Clinton in the White House and Democrats controlling the Senate, Reid warned that if a Senate Republican minority block her Supreme Court nominee, he is confident the party won’t hesitate to change the filibuster rules again.

Such a move would be an extension of what Reid did in 2013 when he was still majority leader, eliminating filibusters (with a simple majority vote) on the President’s nominees. There was only one exception: the Supreme Court. As it stands now, Democrats still need 60 votes to move forward with a Supreme Court nominee.

Reid said, however, that could change.

“I really do believe that I have set the Senate so when I leave, we’re going to be able to get judges done with a majority. It takes only a simple majority anymore. And, it’s clear to me that if the Republicans try to filibuster another circuit court judge, but especially a Supreme Court justice, I’ve told ‘em how and I’ve done it, not just talking about it. I did it in changing the rules of the Senate. It’ll have to be done again,” Reid told TPM in a wide-ranging interview about his time in the Senate and his legacy.

“They mess with the Supreme Court, it’ll be changed just like that in my opinion,” Reid said, snapping his fingers together. “So I’ve set that up. I feel very comfortable with that.”

So much for Schumer’s absurd claim that Democrats wanted “some degree of bipartisan agreement” on Supreme Court nominees. 

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