Justice Souter Poised to Retire

1 05 2009

From the NYT:

The departure will open the first seat for a Democratic president to fill in 15 years and could prove a test of Mr. Obama’s plans for reshaping the nation’s judiciary. Confirmation battles for the Supreme Court in recent years have proved to be intensely partisan and divisive moments in Washington, but Mr. Obama has more leeway than his predecessors because his party holds such a strong majority in the Senate.

This battle is going to be intense. President Obama is having difficulty just trying to get cabinet level and mid level nominees to the Justice Department confirmed. Trying to get a Supreme Court nominee confirmed by the U.S. Senate is usually a very tough endeavor, especially since Republicans seemed determined to stymie efforts to overhaul health care, climate change legislation, education and immigration reform, just to name a few.

That’s why Arlen Specter’s defection from the Republican party is so timely and so important. Thought nominees are confirmed by a simple majority in the final vote, to cut off debate in the Senate chamber on a bill or nominee you need 60 votes. That 60 vote threshold is called a cloture vote. If you cannot overcome cloture that nominee or bill has in effect been filibustered. Provided that Al Franken will be allowed to assume his Senate seat soon, and the Democratic caucus vote together, Specter gives the Dems a 60 vote filibuster proof majority.

In theory a party line vote should make Obama’s job easier, though who fills the vacancy on the court will almost take up so much of the media oxygen during the next few months that it will compete with the president’s efforts to promote other aspects of his agenda.

And with dwindling political power on Capitol Hill, conservatives, especially the ideologically pure, will make President Obama’s nominee a full throated primal cry to action.

Man, I hope we are ready.




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