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Senate GOP Vows Golden Rule on Judges

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the “gang of 14” that came to a 2005 agreement to not filibuster judicial nominees outside of extraordinary circumstances, says he expects more of President Barack Obama’s nominees to be approved next year.

Senate Republicans have high hopes of reclaiming the majority and possibly the White House next year, and that’s precisely why they say this week’s filibuster of D.C. Circuit Court nominee Caitlin Halligan is not a harbinger of a freeze on President Barack Obama’s judicial nominations.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) believes the golden rule applies in politics as much as it does in morality. 

“‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ was a good rule a long time ago, and I think it applies today,” Graham said. “I just think we ought to run the place assuming you won’t be in charge one day.”

Graham and other Senate Republicans said they expect more of Obama’s judicial nominees to be approved by the Senate next year, as long as the nominees’ views are within the mainstream and they are properly vetted.

“I don’t hear any difference in tone here [in the Senate GOP Conference] if they are reasonable, even if they are liberal,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said. He added that Republicans reserve the right to object to judicial “activists ... [who] don’t have the temperament or the ability to look at things objectively.”  

Graham was one of 14 Senators — seven Democrats and seven Republicans — who developed a gentlemen’s agreement in 2005 that broke a judicial logjam.

Nine members of the original “gang of 14” remain in the Senate. Under the accord, they would not vote with their party on filibustering judicial nominees except in the case of extraordinary circumstances as defined by each individual Senator.

Prior to the gang accord, then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was considering a change in Senate rules to eliminate use of the filibuster to prevent judicial confirmation votes. Frist’s maneuver was dubbed the “nuclear option,” or, as he called it, the “constitutional option,” and the group formed to address the issue.

The Senate has, for the most part, continued to adhere to the agreement. Only two judges have been filibustered since 2005: Goodwin Liu and Halligan, who was blocked on a Tuesday vote that fell six votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. Halligan was nominated by Obama to join the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also said the Halligan vote was no watershed. Lee said the GOP treads lightly when it comes to filibustering judicial nominations, in part, for fear of antagonizing Democrats in the event that Republicans win the majority.

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