Jemma Stephenson ’20
The Senate Republicans have decided to utilize the so-called “Nuclear Option,” which allows them to break the Democratic filibuster with a simple majority of 51 votes, as opposed to the usual 60. A precedent for this alteration was set in 2013 when the Democratic Senate changed the majority votes to a simple majority for all cabinet-level and judicial nominations except for Supreme Court nominations. This decision has allowed the Senate Republicans to go forward with their nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the still-empty Supreme Court seat of Antonin Scalia. Once the decision was made, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allegedly high-fived the Majority Whips as he walked down the aisle.
This controversial decision, motivated by Donald Trump’s encouragement to Mitch McConnell, comes on the heels of the decisions made to gridlock the nomination of moderate Merrick Garland in 2016 under former President Barack Obama. As a result, many Senate Democrats have referred to the Supreme Court seat as the “stolen seat.” Personally, I cannot imagine that the Senate Republicans would have allowed a change in protocol over the Merrick Garland nomination even if the Democrats had the majority at the time.
This decision puts the tradition of the filibuster, a method used for the minority to challenge the decisions of the majority, at risk for all future decisions. With this rule change, the majority will have unchecked power over the decision, putting the interests of the minority at risk. The majority, whether Republican or Democratic, has the responsibility to at least listen to the minority. It is this responsibility that keeps politics relevant for all people, not just those people who voted for the current winners. The current majority often shifts with each election. Unlike the Supreme Court, it changes with the popular opinion of the time. The values that are currently held by the majority most likely will not be held by the majority after later elections.
In addition, this decision both follows and sets a precedent. The policy change follows the precedent set by the Democrats but it is unprecedented at the gravity of the Supreme Court position. The Supreme Court seat is a position for life at the federal level. The position was designed to remain outside of the current political trends.It has a level of permanence that allows the decision makers to make those decisions that fall most in line with their morals without being at the whim of those voting in the next elections. And, due to the weight of that power, the confirmation has been designed to consider the feelings and values of both the majority and the minority. The decision should be bipartisan so that the voices and values of all Americans, be they Democratic, Republican, Third-Party or Independent, are represented.
This decision puts the sanctity of the electoral process at risk. The power of the Supreme Court, a power that can extend for decades, has been put into the hands of the simple majority. And the simple majority never lasts.