Senate Approves “Nuclear Option” No More Filibuster for Most Appointees

Led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), the Democratic-controlled Senate voted today, by a slim 52-48 margin, to do away with the 60-vote supermajority now required to avoid a filibuster of most executive and judicial appointees.

“Majority rules” is not quite the way things work in Congress anymore. If that were the case, then a simple majority (51 out of 100 Senators) would be all that was requited not only to pass legislation, but also to confirm, say, presidential appointments to executive branch positions, or to federal courts.  But that is not the case.

Instead, the opposition may filibuster, i.e., use procedural loopholes to delay appointments indefinitely, unless the proposal passes by 60 votes. Essentially then, in the halls of Congress, “supermajority rules.”

Now that the Senate has voted to strike down the supermajority requirement, it will be able to approve presidential appointments to lower federal courts, and to the executive branch, by a simple majority. Legislation and Supreme Court appointments would still have to be approved by a 60-vote supermajority.

Reid implored his fellow Senators to pass the bill “before this institution becomes obsolete.”

President Obama, who applauded the measure, pointed out that for several decades before he took office, only about 20 presidential nominees had been filibustered, but that in the fewer than five years since he has been president, there have been almost 30 that were blocked.


Ambassador Dimitrios Tsikouris (JD, MA) has a 36-year-long career in the Greek Diplomatic Service with assignments in Germany, the United Nations, New Orleans, Washington, DC, NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy, Iran, Belgium, Indonesia, Malaysia, and ASEAN.

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