Last year, the Senate Republican minority abuses reached untenable levels never before seen in American history. GOP senators began blocking judicial nominees -- even nominees they supported -- as part of a truly ridiculous partisan tantrum with no precedent in the American tradition.
Left with no choice, Senate Democrats restored majority rule on most confirmation votes. Through the "nuclear option," the Senate would consider judicial nominees, hold a vote, and confirm the jurists who earned the support of a Senate majority.
Republicans, some of whom had already gone back on their promise to never filibuster a judicial nominee, were apoplectic. Democrats had "broken the Senate," the GOP said. Dems had created a "constitutional crisis," leaving the chamber no better than the lowly House. It was time for a Republican majority, the GOP said, to bring back some sanity to the way in which the institution operates.
And then, all of a sudden finding themselves in the majority, Senate Republicans came up with a new argument: Never mind.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), for example, co-wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday
, saying the new Republican majority should keep the nuclear option in place ... because Democrats are bad. Or something.
It will fall to the next Republican president to counteract President Obama's aggressive efforts to stack the federal courts in favor of his party's ideological agenda. But achieving such balance would be made all the more difficult -- if not impossible -- if Republicans choose to reinstate the previous filibuster rule now that the damage to the nation's judiciary has already been done. To restore the rule now, after Mr. Obama has installed his controversial judges, would cement a partisan double standard: When Democrats control the White House and Senate, judicial nominations need only 50 votes; but when Republicans control both, judicial nominations require 60 votes, allowing Democratic minorities to block Republican nominations.
Ah, I see. When Bush/Cheney put far-right ideologues on the federal bench, Republicans are just acting responsibly. When Obama appoints more progressive jurists to the courts, he's "stacking the federal courts in favor of his party's ideological agenda." When Democrats consider judicial nominees through majority rule, it's a constitutional crisis. If Republicans keep this outrageous and abusive rule in place, it's fine.
Hatch isn't the only one.
Conservatives are pressuring Senate Republicans to keep in place the controversial "nuclear option" rules that Democrats approved last year to limit filibusters of President Obama's nominees. A group of 26 conservative academics, advocates and leaders wrote in a letter that they see "very little upside" to restoring the old rules, which had allowed the minority party to require 60 votes to confirm nominees.
None of this should surprise anyone. Both parties play a little fast and loose when it comes to the powers of the majority, based entirely on whether they're in the majority at the time. Indeed, Republicans generally hope we forget the pesky details, but they're the ones who came up with the "nuclear option" idea in the first place -- midway through the Bush/Cheney era, when Democrats blocked votes on far-right nominees and Republicans were swearing up and down that blocking votes on judges tore at the fabric of our constitutional system of government.
Then control of the Senate shifted and the parties switched sides. Now Senate control is shifting back and they're getting ready to switch back.
It's a tiresome game, to be sure, but Republicans ought to feel some embarrassment about this display of political whiplash. They really have spent a year whining incessantly that majority rule on confirmation votes is an abuse that simply cannot be tolerated, two centuries of American governing notwithstanding,.
And now we're just starting to hear their new position: "Who, us? We said what, now?"