Over the past several years, conservatives have complained that President Obama was usurping power disregarding Congress and the Constitution and governing by decree.
But on Thursday, there was a virtual coup d'etat on the floor of the U.S. Senate when the Democrats, in a party-line vote, stripped the Republicans of any role in judicial confirmations. Added to an earlier measure that eliminated their role in confirmations of appointments to executive branch agencies, Harry Reid and Obama have turned the confirmation process – an essential element in the checks and balances enumerated in the Constitution – into a meaningless ritual.
Until Thursday, confirmations to judicial positions required the assent of 60 senators to bring them to the floor for a vote. With the Democrats holding 55 seats – five short of a supermajority, this check and balance stopped the appointment of ultra-radical judges and inhibited Obama's efforts to stack the courts with like-minded judges, just as it had stopped Bush and every president before him.
But by a simple majority vote, Reid has changed the rules so that a simple majority is enough to confirm any judge other than a Supreme Court nominee. (One suspects that the minute a vacancy on the high court occurs, the 60-vote requirement will be stripped from the rules governing the replacement's confirmation as well.)
This horrific violation of the principles of our Constitution is specifically targeted at stopping efforts by litigants to stop other violations of the same document. With Obama imposing environmental, immigration, labor, health care and other rules without so much as asking Congress, those who are concerned about the concentration of executive power could look to the court system for redress. Specifically, they focused on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the second highest court in the land.
It is before the D.C. Circuit that all appeals from Obama's administrative decisions come for review. Currently, the court is balanced with four Democratic and four Republican judges. As such, we could all breathe easily knowing that a fair review of his usurpations was in the offing.
But the Court has 11 judges. Three are vacant. Obama has sought to fill thee three slots with fellow travelers who can be counted on to toe his line. Republicans have blocked the confirmation of these three judges. It is to jam them through that Reid has changed the rules. Not only has he silenced dissent in the Senate, he has made sure there is none on the Circuit Court as well.
Republicans have pointed out that the caseload of the D.C. Circuit has dropped and have urged that the three vacant judgeships be eliminated, preserving the partisan balance. But Obama doesn't want balance. He wants absolute power.
Now the only thing standing between him and his goal are five aging members of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The practical implication of this coup is that we now are moving toward a parliamentary system in the U.S. rather than one based on checks and balances as our forefathers set up. We are nearing an elected dictatorship where the president can do what he wants with a compliant Senate willing to confirm judges who grant him the power to do so, Constitution or not.
It is this development, more than any specific act of the president's that has to alarm true democrats (with a small d). It sure alarms me.
Dick Morris, former advisor to the Clinton administration, is a commentator and writer. He is also a columnist for the New York Post and The Hill. His wife, Eileen McGann is an attorney and consultant.