nate democracy—not just Senate Democrats—suffered two significant setbacks last week. One wound was partly self-inflicted. The other was mischief worked by judges. President Obama’s wiliest and most subtle adversary—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—has just won big, twice.
First, filibuster reform fizzled. Though Democrats have 55 Senate seats, nothing important can pass without 60 votes, so McConnell retains enormous power to stop whatever Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Dems might favor.
Meanwhile, a panel of Republican-appointed judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that President Obama cannot overcome Senate filibusters of his nominees by making executive branch appointments during Senate recesses that take place midsession. The judges made this ruling in the name of Senate rights, even though neither the Senate as a whole nor the Senate’s Democrat majority was complaining about Obama’s recess appointments. Only McConnell and his fellow Republican senators were involved in the lawsuit (as informal friends of the court), yet the judges in effect recognized them—the minority!—as the Senate’s proper spokesmen. And if that weren’t bad enough, the judges proceeded to overturn well-settled Senate practices governing the Senate’s own internal procedures—practices that had been supported for decades and on some specifics for centuries by senators (and presidents) of both parties.
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