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Senate Curtailing of Filibuster Will Have Far Reaching Policy Implications

By Noell Saunders

The Senate's recent decision to eliminate the filibuster option for opponents of nominees to the Supreme Court, is opening the door to a new era of American politics.

Jesse Richman, a professor of political science and international studies at Old Dominion University, said the decision ultimately changes the way democracy functions and it is too early to tell whether the filibuster will be favorable or not.

The move was made by Senate Republicans in response to Democratic filibuster attempts to thwart confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was easily approved by a simple majority after the parliamentary changes.

"On the one hand, it (the filibuster tactic) has helped ensure that legislation passed by the Senate is bipartisan. Arguably that is a good thing," Richman said. "On the other hand, it has made it harder to legislate. Arguably that is a bad thing."

To get rid of the filibuster, the Senate invoked the "nuclear option." That allowed them to force a vote and confirm Gorsuch with a simple majority of 51 legislators, instead of a supermajority of 60 votes as set in 1975.

"Each time the Senate invokes the nuclear option it will get easier to do it," Richman said. "I doubt this will be the last time we see this tactic."

In 2013, the Senate used the same tactic to end debate and force a vote. Going forward with the recent decision; future judges at all levels will require only majority approval.

Richman adds, "This is an unfortunate decision but not surprising given the poor choices that were made decades ago. I think there will be mounting pressure behind nominations to weaken the filibuster on various categories of legislation."

The bright spot is that Congress could accomplish more and pass bills at the expense of bipartisanship, he added.

Richman notes there are fewer empty spots on the federal judicial bench today because of the 2013 rules change.

"In politics where you stand is often where you sit. Some year soon the shoe will be on the other foot, and Republicans will be wishing they had the option to filibuster, while Democrats are glad they don't have to worry about it," he said.

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