Nukes are dangerous weapons. You have to think beyond the initial result and consider long-term fallout. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., don't seem to have thought about these long-term consequences as they pushed the button on the "nuclear option," killing filibusters of presidential appointees. They say that the new rules will not apply to Supreme Court appointments – we'll see whether that lasts.
I'll leave it to others to explain the function and history of the filibuster. I'll just say that it was a way for the minority to make a point and force the majority to come up with something better than a simple majority to pass significant legislation or approve a controversial appointment. Something that is important to understand is that the filibuster, and cloture – the process of overriding a filibuster – have been in place for a very long time with only minor changes in the processes. Shutting down a filibuster and invoking cloture requires a three-fifths majority vote of all senators – typically 60 votes.
What the Democrats have done is to use a simple majority to change a supermajority rule. That's not normally allowed under any parliamentary system. And while Democrat-friendly news outlets are fond of showing charts and statistics of how much more frequently cloture has been invoked in recent years as proof that Republicans have been abusing the filibuster, they omit the fact that Harry Reid has adopted cloture as a normal part of conducting the business of the Senate. Cloture is simply a set of rules that the Senate can run under which are a bit more restrictive than the normal rules. Under cloture, amendments and debate are limited and there is a more structured timetable for getting things done. Leaders of the Senate have been using the tool more frequently to more efficiently push through business and head off any possibility of unwanted delays, and Harry Reid has embraced the practice as a preferred method for getting things done. That means that all of the focus on cloture votes is misplaced because voting on cloture is not an indication of filibuster activity.
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So what has all of this got to do with gun rights?
As noted above, the new "nuclear" rule supposedly only applies to presidential appointments, excluding appointments to the Supreme Court. Even if that limitation sticks – which I don't believe is going to happen – that means that when Obama appoints an anti-hunting, environmental extremist to head the EPA or an avowed anti-Second Amendment judge to a federal court, Republicans have no way of even slowing the process and forcing a hard look at the appointees' credentials and suitability for the job. Partisanship seems to come out the strongest when it comes to presidential appointments, with the president's party always solidly supporting his choice, regardless of how controversial, and most of the other party opposing it.
The only recent exception to that rule that I can recall was G.W. Bush's rather bizarre appointment of Harriet Meyers to the Supreme Court. With normal appointments, there are usually enough members of the opposition party willing to cross over in support of a presidential appointee to get the appointment approved – eventually. A comparison of appointment versus confirmation ratios between Bush and Obama shows that Obama has had a significantly higher percentage of his judicial appointments confirmed than Bush did – even after the infamous "Gang of 14" deal that was credited with keeping the Republicans from pushing the button on the "nuclear option" back in 2005.
Appointments like attorney general, the heads of ATF, EPA, Interior, other federal agencies and departments can have a significant impact on gun owners and hunters. Appointments to federal courts, particularly the federal Courts of Appeals, can have a devastating impact on individual rights, especially the right to keep and bear arms. That's bad enough, but the damage of Obama's nuclear action doesn't end there. Along with the likelihood of this eventually applying to Supreme Court nominations, some Democrat senators have said that the inability to overcome a filibuster of the Manchin-Toomey bill, illegalizing private firearm transfers, back in April was what motivated them to vote in favor of the nuclear option – even though the option supposedly doesn't apply to legislation. That strongly suggests that they are not going to be satisfied with stopping at limiting debate on presidential appointees. Republicans have virtually said as much in their response to the Democrats' action. They are threatening to take the new rules even further if they regain the majority next November.
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Whoever is in control, extended debate and filibuster are going to be on the chopping block the next time there is a controversial issue before the Senate – especially if it is an issue like Manchin-Toomey which appears to have broad popular support. That means that in the near future, a slim majority will be able to run roughshod over the minority at their will. Controversial and divisive issues will be decided 51-49 instead of the minority being able to force a 60-vote minimum for passage. Once that takes hold in the U.S. Senate, a single party holding the House and Senate and the White House will have nothing but the integrity of their members and fear of voter reprisals to keep their political ambitions in check.
That's a scary proposition.