It's a shame it had to come to this.
When Senate Republicans this week blocked a vote on President Obama's nominee to an important federal appeals court — the third such maneuver in a month — it was apparent lawmakers had hit a point of no return.
Something had to be done, and it was. Democrats changed the filibuster rules so that executive appointments and judicial nominees — except Supreme Court candidates — can be advanced with just 51 votes.
Heretofore, 60 votes were needed to get over procedural hurdles to move candidates forward.
Abuse of the Senate's filibuster rules had been growing for years. And we've been denouncing the abuses for years, too.
In 2003, for example, when the Democratic minority in the Senate was preventing the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals from being voted on, we urged a vote in no uncertain terms.
“The key issue is whether a filibuster should ever be employed to defeat a judicial nominee,” we wrote. “We think not. Those senators who think Estrada is too conservative should vote no. ....The key point is that there should be a vote.”
That remains our position, for the very good reason that the Constitution imposes no requirement for a supermajority vote of 60 to approve judicial nominations. The Senate's role is supposed to be one of “advise and consent,” not strong-armed obstruction.
Presidents need to be able to fill court vacancies and other posts.
And yet the obstruction by the Senate minority only seems to get worse.
Between 1967 and 2012, majority leaders tried to break the filibuster of judicial nominees 67 times. Yet 31 of those (about 46 percent) took place in the last five years, during the Obama presidency.
That's unacceptable. By the time the latest blocked vote occurred, the “nuclear option” of abolishing the filibuster for nominees no longer sounded unthinkable.
The nuclear option was seriously considered back in 2005, too, when a frustrated GOP considered changing filibuster rules to thwart Democrats blocking President Bush's judicial picks. We opposed the rule change then while supporting a bipartisan deal whereby Democrats stopped blocking nominees and filibuster rules remained intact.
However, Washington has gotten so toxic in the interim and stalemate on nominations has become so routine, we don't see another path forward.
The D.C. Court of Appeals, which was the flashpoint for the rule change, isn't your ordinary federal appeals court.
The 11-member court has three vacancies. Of its active judges, four were appointed by Democrats and four by Republicans. The court is unique because its caseload is loaded with claims against the federal government.
And that's likely to include cases challenging Obama administration regulations stemming from Environmental Protection Agency actions, and the implementation of Dodd-Frank financial reforms.
Democrats and Republicans should have worked out another deal to avoid the change in the filibuster, as occurred in 2005, but there doesn't seem to be enough common ground left for such consensus. And that itself is a depressing commentary on the state of politics today.