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Senate Goes Nuclear; Judicial Vacancies Will Soon be Filled

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By William Peacock, Esq. on November 21, 2013 11:23 AM

Well, the filibuster option is now dead, at least somewhat. Cue the fears, justified or not, of the tyranny of the majority. In the short term, expect the much-debated three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, as well as the hundreds of other vacancies across the country, to be filled with little to no opposition.

What cleared the gridlock? Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called for a vote to change the rules of filibustering, with passed 52-48. Now, a simple majority vote for cloture can end a filibuster on presidential nominations for everything but the U.S. Supreme Court.

Why the Change?

Pretty obvious, isn't it? The Democrats were tired of the Republicans blocking President Barack Obama's nominations for pretty much everything, and especially the D.C. Circuit, where four nominees for three seats have been blocked in recent times, reports Politico. (Though Sri Srinivasan was confirmed unanimously earlier this year.) The most recent blocked nominee was Nina Pillard, a candidate decried as a "radical feminist" before her nomination was stalled last week.

(Sidebar: Don't worry, Democrat staffer who made the sign: I can't spell filibuster either.)

It is interesting that out of 168 filibusters in history, nearly half were of President Obama's nominees. Yes, blocking nominations has happened to nearly every recent president (and the issue has typically been cleared through compromise nominees), but that is a pretty significant ratio. Still, the so-called nuclear option could have far-reaching effects beyond judicial nominations.

This is Just the Beginning

According to Politico, Sen. Mitch McConnell warned the Democrats that, "You'll regret this and you might regret it even sooner than you might think."

Harsh words, but what do they mean? The general consensus seems to be that when the GOP next takes control of the White House and Senate, the filibuster will be toast -- for everything. The tyranny of the majority is here, even if, for now, it is limited to the president's nominations.

What Vacancies are Left?

According to the U.S. Courts' webpage, as of this morning, there are 93 vacancies, including 18 Circuit Court of Appeals vacancies, with ten nominees pending, and 75 district court vacancies, with 41 nominees pending. With debate effectively dead, expect those spots to fill up quickly. Then again, there's always "blue slips."

Of particular concern on the appeals court level are the Eleventh Circuit and D.C. Circuit benches. The D.C. Circuit has the aforementioned three vacancies, while the Eleventh Circuit has three vacancies, one judge waiting to take senior status, and another judge that is an octogenarian.

Does this Affect You?

Maybe. If you practice in federal courts, filled vacancies will hopefully help cases to move more quickly through the federal court system, though sequestration budget cuts will still ensure that the system isn't exactly efficient.

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