Okay, this is … annoying.

Maybe in journalistic circles, it’s not quite like hanging out with mystery writers. Maybe in journalistic circles, certain tacit assumptions are safe. But even among professional writers, some assumptions aren’t safe, which leaves me wondering yet again about those people to whom writing is some sort of odd inconvenience unless they’re scrawling out a grocery list or a gift tag.

The Senate voted to change the chamber’s rules to exempt executive and most judicial branch nominees from filibusters, effectively lowering the threshold for confirmation to 51 votes. The modification does not affect Supreme Court nominees.


That is to say, I can certainly look at Alexander Bolton’s paragraph for The Hill and know what the internal workings amount to. There are plenty who can. But there are also plenty who are not so fortunate, and they appear to be the majority.

In changing Senate rules, Democrats are “effectively lowering the threshold for confirmation to 51 votes”, as Bolton explains. In other words: In changing Senate rules, Democrats are reiterating the longstanding majority vote for confirmation.

For those who attend the political discourse more closely or habitually, it might seem a pedantic correction. But there are also those who know exactly why it’s important.

Not every voter pays such close attention to the political workings of our various governing bodies; if such a suggestion really does require explanation, simply consider the Obamacare question about existing health plans. While some of us are aware that it is absurd to blame the White House for the calculated business decisions undertaken by a private corporate board somewhere in the nation, that distinction seemingly has no place in the current the current discussion. Someone’s insurance company board changed their policy, and now that person is really pissed off at the president; that’s pretty much all that matters.

People are people. But the problem presented by Bolton’s presupposition that the only people reading The Hill understand every nod-and-wink sleight and colloquialism, while not quite akin to asking ELL students to comprehend Variety, is evident to everyone who has to put up with a friend or relative or some dude on the next barstool, or whatever, complaining about the literal statement while failing to grasp everything else wrapped up in it.

It is worth noting that after a while, people get tired of hearing the corrections. Whether a calculating conservative like an associate who aims to be a caricature of conservative archetype, or just the average, middle-of-the-road voter trying to figure out what is actually going on, there comes a point when being told you are wrong to make the complaint is simply not acceptable—even if it’s true.

People get tired of being told they’re wrong.

Did the Democrats change the rules? Technically, yes.

Was this really a response to Republicans changing the rules? Technically, no.

So what was it, then?

Of 168 executive-branch nominees filibustered by the Senate, eighty-six occurred under prior presidents. Eighty-two occurred under President Obama. And here’s the thing: When the logjams have been broken, it turns out Republicans had no real objections to the nominees, except that they were nominated by President Obama.

Remember, for instance, that Patricia Millet, a judge Republlicans want to keep off the D.C. circuit because President Obama nominated her, also served in the Solicitor General’s office under President Bush. Or Judge Richard Taranto, appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Taranto was actually the second nominee put forward by the Obama administration. Edward DuMont was withdrawn after an eighteen-month block by Republicans. Taranto’s nomination went forward under a deal brokered in the Senate to avoid the “nuclear option” against filibusters. When he finally got a vote, after seventeen months of being filibusterd and blocked, not a single Republican voted against him.

Why did the Democrats change the rules?

To read Bolton, one might think they changed the rules to lower the confirmation threshold. The reality is, though, that the political party known for routinely asserting that government doesn’t work is trying to prove the point by preventing the government from functioning. By changing the rules, Democrats have effectively preserved the fifty-one vote threshold.

It’s one thing when a known swindler like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) complains about court-packing, but that’s just the thing; these benches already exist, they are vacant, and the President of the United States has a constitutional duty to fill them. In other words, either that’s not court packing, or the president is directed by the Constitution to pack the court. Either way, it’s a constitutional duty, and between the White House and Senate Republicans, only one is actually trying to do his duty.

One needs not accuse Bolton of carrying water for the right wing hardliners; it is a simple enough compression, with all its tacitries and inherent subtleties. But, to the other, perhaps it is wise to consider just how such phrases pass down the line.


Bolton, Alexander. “Cruz: Democrats want to pack court with judges to protect ObamaCare”. The Hill. November 21, 2013.

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