U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is upset that President Barack Obama's nominees can be filibustered. Under Senate rules, at least 60 members must vote to end debate and move forward on nominations or legislation. This week, Reid urged changing the rule to require a simple majority — but only for executive nominees.
“We're not touching judges,” Reid, D-Nev., recently proclaimed. “This is not judges. This is not legislation.”
Few take Reid at his word. No doubt, his plan is only a first step. But it's telling that Reid prioritizes executive nominees over judges. Take a step back, and this makes perfect sense: Liberals increasingly rely on regulatory agencies to enact policies through rule-making rather than legislative change. The practice undermines the small-d democratic process and public debate.
To a disturbing degree, control of regulatory agencies makes the text of actual laws irrelevant. When regulators can run wild, it doesn't matter what the law says or which judges are seated. Legal challenges to regulatory actions are prohibitively expensive; citizens often relent to regulations that may be illegal or unconstitutional. When court challenges are filed, it can take years for a case to reach a conclusion.
Among the appointments Reid sought to ram through the Senate are union-backed nominees for the National Labor Relations Board and a new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Both entities are notorious for activism that tramples citizens' legal rights.
Courts have ruled some Obama appointees to the NLRB were illegally seated without Senate approval; subsequent decisions of the board are therefore invalid. Yet the NLRB continues to operate in defiance of unambiguous court rulings. The Supreme Court has agreed to review the issue.
Under Obama, the NLRB most notably, if briefly, sued Boeing for “violating federal labor law” because the company planned to open an aircraft production plant in right-to-work South Carolina rather than its home state of Washington. The lawsuit was widely seen as an illegitimate, pro-union extortion tactic.
As for the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has sued that agency over its denial of a state plan to reduce regional haze. The EPA demanded Oklahoma instead implement a federal plan that could increase local utility rates up to 20 percent over three years. Pruitt argues the EPA's actions exceed its federal Clean Air Act authority.
In a case where an Idaho couple planned to build a house, the EPA declared their two-thirds of an acre parcel was a “wetlands” although no water was on it. The couple was ordered to obey a detailed and expensive EPA compliance order or face fines of up to $75,000 per day — before the couple could seek judicial review. The couple fought back in court. In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled landowners have a right to direct, meaningful judicial review if the EPA effectively seizes property.
These are just a few examples of regulators run amok. IRS targeting of conservatives is another.
Some critics focus on Reid's filibuster hypocrisy (he routinely supported it when George W. Bush was president), or the fact that Obama nominees have been approved at a higher rate than Bush nominees. That misses the big picture.
Reid's plan isn't a debate about majority rule in the Senate. It's an effort to fast-track and empower unelected liberal bureaucrats — and substantially negate the democratic process altogether.