By Bill Kaplan
From 2009 - 2013 the GOP Senate minority used the filibuster in an unprecedented manner to paralyze the Senate. The filibuster (or threat) prevented confirmation of cabinet-political nominees, filling judicial vacancies or passing legislation. Nothing got done without cloture - 60 votes to end obstruction. Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson supported paralysis, using his maiden Senate speech to rail against cloture. And, Johnson was prepared to use other Senate rules to obstruct. Senate Democrats finally had enough of a do-nothing Congress, and reformed filibuster rules allowing judicial and cabinet-political appointments to advance for a final vote by a simple majority (not applicable to Supreme Court nominees or other obstructive maneuvers).
The sad, untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia highlights continued GOP obstruction of the political process:
• The New York Times said: "Since Republicans took control of the Senate in January 2015, the process that would enable Mr. Obama to fill vacancies on the 12 regional federal courts of appeal has essentially been halted. Mr. Obama has managed only one appointment because Republican senators have refused to sign off ahead of time on nominees for judgeships (from) their states - a traditional (initial) step ....";
• The Wisconsin State Journal reported: President Obama nominated Madison attorney Donald Schott "for a long-vacant opening on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit....Schott is not the first (Wisconsin) nominee.... In 2010, Obama nominated then-UW law professor Victoria Nourse, but Johnson prevented a confirmation hearing" (Nourse had received the highest grade from the American Bar Association);
• The New York Times explained: President Obama is again submitting nominees for "longstanding vacancies" on federal appeals courts. The White House said: "At some point the process just has to get started";
• Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank ridiculed Johnson's multiple positions on whether President Obama should be allowed to perform his constitutional duty to put forward a Supreme Court nominee for Senate consideration: "Sen. Ron Johnson plays a mean game of Twister .... His contortions were emblematic of the Republican response to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's immediate declaration that no replacement should be considered before the election" (Monday, Illinois GOP Sen. Mark Kirk broke with Johnson and McConnell).
Contrast with Johnson's 2016 challenger, former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold: In 2005, under GOP President Bush, Feingold voted to confirm John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Feingold said: "History has shown that control of the White House, and with it the power to shape the courts, never stays for too long with one party. When my party retakes the White House, there may very well be a Democratic John Roberts nominated to the Court, a man or woman with outstanding qualifications, highly respected by virtually everyone in the legal community, and perhaps with a paper trail of political experience or service on the progressive side of the ideological spectrum. When that day comes, and it will, that will be the test for this (Judiciary) Committee and the Senate .... I will vote to confirm Judge John Roberts ...." Feingold -- statesmanship.
-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 --- 2009.