For years, lawmakers have used filibusters, and merely the threat of them, to block presidential nominees from taking office. But the U.S. Senate decided Thursday in a 52-48 vote to require a simple majority vote–rather than three-fifths–to end the stalling of voting when it comes to making appointments for most executive and judicial positions.
It only takes 51 votes to approve a new nominee for office, but the Senate must vote for cloture first—and that has required 60 votes, making the 51-vote simple majority meaningless (and often quite difficult to reach). At least eight women appointees faced the delay tactic this year, resulting in several failed and withdrawn appointments.
Says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and publisher of Ms.,
[Lawmakers] have been engaging in an egregious abuse of power by systematically blocking presidential nominees to the federal bench and disproportionately affecting the appointment of highly qualified women and people of color.
There’s a lot of ground to be gained to bring about gender and racial equity in judicial appointments. Less than a third of active federal judges are women, and women of color comprise just 10 percent of the U.S. bench, despite being more than 18 percent of the population.
Shortly after the rule change, the Senate voted to confirm Patricia Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, one of those whose appointments had been blocked by a threat of filibuster. With the help of the new rule, women on the bench will hopefully begin an unstoppable and needed rise.
Photo from Flickr user Tobias Higbie under license from Creative Commons 2.0