Transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must have a very big mind indeed. Otherwise, how to explain the fact that Reid made both of the following statements:
“We stand united against an outrageous abuse of power that would pack the courts with out-of-the-mainstream judges.” – May 16, 2005
"The Senate is a living thing, and to survive, it must change." – Nov. 21, 2013
The first Reid declaration opposed then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s “nuclear option” of changing Senate rules to gut the filibuster and thus empower simple majorities to approve or disapprove presidential nominees for federal courts. Republican Frist backed off when a bipartisan Gang of 14 senators engineered a compromise on several of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. The compromise preserved the filibuster just when Frist and many other Republicans, who then had the Senate majority, were exhausted by Democrats using the tactic to stall Bush nominees so long that many of them withdrew in frustration.
The second Reid declaration came Thursday in support of his own proposal to do what Frist did not. Reid used a simple majority vote of 52-48 to change Senate rules from requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster to only 51. Thanks to the filibuster, the Senate has long been characterized by a deliberate pace and collegial compromise rather than the raw majority power that rules in the House of Representatives. Reid pulled the trigger after Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s third nominee for three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Obviously, Reid reversed himself between 2005 and 2013, for one simple reason. Republican Bush was in the White House in 2005 and Reid — ever the hyperpartisan Democrat — sought to prevent the GOP chief executive from putting like-minded jurists on the federal bench. Now Democrat Obama is in the White House in 2013, and Reid — now even more the Democrat partisan over all other considerations — is willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to pack the federal courts with judges who will further enable the current chief executive’s accelerating concentration of government power in himself.
Sadly, Reid is far from the only Democrat to reverse positions on the nuclear option. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont supported Reid. Compare his vote Thursday with his words from 2005, when he was an indefatigable champion of constitutionalism: “The American people deserve better than what we have seen with the destruction of rule after rule by a majority willing to sacrifice the role of the Senate as a check and balance in order to aid a president determined to pack the federal courts. It is the courts themselves that serve as the check on the political branches. Their independence is critical and must be preserved.”
Will Democrats like Reid and Leahy keep quiet in the future when they suffer the inevitable consequences for what they did Thursday?