I’m not going to insult your intelligence by pretending there’s a right and a wrong side in the just-concluded battle over the filibuster. At this point, arguments about the justice of the filibuster are entirely instrumental: To know what someone is going to write, you need only know which party they supported in the last election. Let us just note that this has been a long time coming, and at this point it was probably inevitable from one side or another; the grievances are long and deep, and both sides have joyously fed the wild tide of ill will that has swept the capital over the last few decades.
What’s left to discuss is what this means. In the short term, it obviously means that President Barack Obama can more easily fire people and confirm replacements, and that the D.C. circuit court, which hears regulatory appeals, is going to be a lot more liberal-leaning in the future. In the medium term -- if you think, as I do, that Republicans have a pretty good shot of taking the Senate and White House by 2017 -- we can expect Republicans to do away with the rest of the filibuster, accompanied by the writhings and groans and outraged cries of many now celebrating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s courageous stand against minority obstructionism. In the long term, the Senate will be a more majoritarian body, for good and for ill; parties will enjoy new power when they are in the majority, and when they are not, they will bitterly lament the bygone respect for minority rights.
But what’s perhaps most interesting is the light this sheds on current Democratic thinking. Yes, obviously the Democrats are mad about Republican obstructionism, but they were mad three weeks ago, and they didn’t abolish the filibuster then.
One way to interpret this is that they are confident that they will retain their majority in 2014, and so they have no immediate need to worry about minority rights. But it would be insane for Reid to have grown more confident in the last six weeks. No, I think that this shows the opposite: They think it’s very likely that they will lose their Senate majority in 2014. They are essentially writing off the last two years of Obama’s presidency, which means getting as much done as possible right now. They are going to spend the next year packing as many liberal justices and appointees onto the courts and various bureaucracies as they can, knowing that much of this legacy will live on beyond Obama.
Is that a wise strategy? Reid will probably rue his decision if the Republican Party takes the White House in 2016, because Republicans are likely to stuff the Supreme Court with as many young, hale and very conservative justices as they can find. But I’d imagine that right now, to someone in his shoes, 2016 feels a very long way off.