Scalia Dead; Obama Can Get a New Justice, Maybe without Republicans

Antonin Scalia died on February 13. Obama might be able to nominate a justice and have that person confirmed by a Democratic-majority Senate. The Democrats have a reasonably good chance to retake the Senate majority in the November 2016 election (8 seats now held by Dems are up; 17 seats now held by Rs are up). The 2017 session of Congress starts January 3, 2017. Obama does not leave office until January 20, 2017. So he can nominate the next justice during that 17-day period in the 115th Congress and get confirmation from a Democratic-majority Senate, regardless of who wins the 2016 election for President.

Not enough time in January 2017, you say? Obama could nominate much earlier than that, in the 114th Congress, so that all the hearings would be concluded prior to January 2017.

The minority Rs in January 2017 would filibuster, you say? The Democrats could use the "Constitutional option," as they did in 2011 over a bill about Chinese currency manipulation. The filibuster can be eliminated any time a majority in the Senate want to eliminate it. But the Democrats have been exceedingly weak in exercising that authority, when they have had Senate majorities.

The Udall Resolution to Amend U.S. Constitution is Inadequate

On September 11, the U.S. Senate voted 54-42 to break the filibuster on the resolution to send to the States a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.  The Democrats all voted to break the filibuster but did not invoke the "nuclear option" that would allow that 54-42 vote to prevail.  Instead, the Democrats allowed the Republicans to "win" with only 42 votes, thereby blocking a vote on the resolution itself.  Thanks, Democrats.  Of course, since such a resolution requires 2/3 affirmative votes in both houses of Congress, it would not be adopted by the current Congress.

The piece below shows that the resolution left much to be desired, anyway.

-- Dan Meek

As the US Senate moves to vote on the Udall proposed constitutional amendment to address the effects of the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, let's be clear.

by David Delk

We need a single constitutional amendment that says:
*Corporations are not people and do not have constitutional rights, and
money is not speech, it is property and shall be subject to regulation at all levels of government.
From the sounds of the letters received as well as the emails, our democracy can only be saved from the plutocrats and corporatists if we sign the petitions and contribute some money to endorse passage of Senate Joint Resolution 19, the so-called Udall amendment. According to the letter dated August 13, 2014, from Public Citizen, “Senators Cantwell and McCaskill just announced that they will vote for our constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, McCutcheon and all the other disastrous Supreme Court decisions that are handing effective control of our democracy over to giant corporations and a tiny cabal of super-wealthy individuals.”
We agree with Public Citizen that this is a crucial time for our democracy and that urgent action is required. But is Senator Tom Udall's (D-NM) Amendment (SRJ19) the right amendment? Will it do what it is hyped to do?
Oregon Progressive Party says “Get some teeth in that”
We need a proposed constitutional amendment with some teeth, something that will really do what Public Citizen suggests the Udall Amendment will do, but actually would not.

Senate Democrats Again Voluntarily Allow the DISCLOSE Act to Fail

Today the Democrats in the U.S. Senate voluntarily allowed the DISCLOSE Act to fail, again. This is the bill that would require disclosure of the sources of some independent expenditures in races for U.S. Congress and President.

The Democrats allowed the Republicans to filibuster the bill. The vote to end the filibuster (called cloture) was 51-45 in favor of ending the filibuster and thus allowing a vote on the bill itself. The chair then declared that the cloture motion failed, because it requires a 60% affirmative vote.

At that point, the Democrats could have invoked the "Constitutional Option" and have challenged the ruling of the chair.  That ruling could be overturned with a simple majority vote, as it was last year when Harry Reid invoked that option (also known as the "nuclear option") to disallow introduction of a series of amendments to a bill about Chinese currency manipulation.  The Hill reported on Oct 6, 2011:

In a shocking development, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid triggered a rarely used procedural option informally called the “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules.

Reid and 50 Democrats voted to change Senate rules unilaterally to prevent Republicans from forcing votes on uncomfortable amendments.

Reid’s coup passed by a vote of 51-48, leaving Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fuming.  The surprise move stunned Republicans, who did not expect Reid to bring heavy artillery to what had been a humdrum knife fight over amendments to China currency legislation.

The Democrats use "heavy artillery" on bills of marginal importance but wield a  rubber sword when it comes to campaign finance reform.

Filibuster Reform Fails

by Dan Meek

As I predicted in early January 2011 (see the videos below in this blog), the U.S. Senate refused to reform the filibuster. The crucial decision was that of the Democratic Leadership not to challenge the absurd and unconstitutional "Senate rule" that requires a 2/3 vote of all members in order to change any Senate rule, even at the beginning of a new session.

Knowing that any reform would require 67 votes, Senators then voted on 3 reforms, knowing that all would fail anyway. The reform with the best showing was the Merkley-Udall proposal to require all filibusters to be "talking"--that is, Senators would actually have to hold the floor during the filibuster instead of merely sending a message saying "I filibuster." The current system allows literally thousands of filibusters to be happening at any time, and the Senate refused to change it.

Even the Merkley-Udall bill received only 46 votes, with 4 Democrats voting against it (Baucus, Pryor, Reid, Levin) and 3 not voting (Feinstein, Inouye, Kerry). Even the 46 voting "yes" to this limited reform knew that the vote did not matter, because the Democratic Leadership refused to allow them a majority vote to abrogate the 2/3 vote rule (which would have resulted if the President of the Senate (VP Joe Biden) had ruled in favor of a point of order that the 2/3 vote rule was invalid). The reformer Democrats failed even to offer that point of order.

So the Democrats failed to reform the filibuster. This is consistent with my belief that the filibuster serves them well. It allows them to claim to be progressive on issues and then consistently fail to achieve progressive policies, while blaming "the process." For example, nearly every one of the Democrats in the Senate last December claimed to be against extending the Bush tax cut on incomes over $250,000 per year (and certainly on incomes over $1 million per year). Yet, despite their 59-41 majority in the Senate (including Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman), plus the Presidency and a similar majority in the House of Representatives), they "failed."

At least that is the conventional wisdom: "They tried to stop the tax cuts for the wealthy and super-wealthy, but they failed." The conventional wisdom is wrong. In fact, they did not want to stop the tax cuts and so they extended them. They want progressive voters to believe, however, that they wanted to stop the tax cuts, so they blamed the filibuster (under which they claim to need 60 votes to do anything).

Without the filibuster, the majority Democrats in the Senate would be far more accountable to the voters. With the filibuster, they can continue to advance Republican causes (and thus continue to get big campaign contributions from corporate executives) while blaming "the process" for their predictable "failures" that are not actually failures at all.

Filibuster reform goes bust, by Manu Raju on Politito

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