Editor, Times-Union:

As part of my series of letters on enacting reform for all three branches of the federal government, I would like to focus on the judicial branch of the federal government, more specifically the Supreme Court and the confirmation threshold for nominating justices to the Supreme Court. The threshold at one point used to be a 60-vote filibuster rule.

There are two exceptions out of the several decades since the mid-1960s that should be noted: the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas 52-48 in 1991 and Samuel Alito 58-42 in 2005. All other confirmations were over the 60-vote threshold. Of course, this rule has gradually eroded along with the filibuster in general. In 2003, Senate Republicans considered changing the standard from 60 to 51, the so-called nuclear option in response to Democratic filibustering. In 2013, Harry Reid and Senate Democrats changed the rule for most federal judiciary nominees and presidential appointments. This was in response to Republican filibustering. Finally in 2017, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans lowered the threshold from 60 to 51 for Supreme Court nominees to prevent any filibustering by Democrats. In 2018, a simple majority (51) of the full Senate was not even needed to confirm Justice Kavanaugh 50-48-1. One member of the Senate was absent and one other only voted present.

There is the potential of even lower confirmation votes for future nominees as only a quorum of 51 Senators is required by Article 1 Section 5 of the Constitution to be present in order to conduct its business. So the chance of seeing a nominee confirmed by vote totals in the 40 to 50 range will increase considering the hyper-partisan nature of Supreme Court nominations where some Senators may choose to be absent or just vote present to avoid an up or down final vote.

It should be a constitutional requirement for the Senate that all final up and down floor votes on nominations, budgets, treaties and legislations, etc., be passed by either a supermajority vote or the minimum of simple majority vote (51) and no less than such of the full Senate unless a substantial portion of the full Senate is vacant due to natural calamity in the states they represent or such states are in a state of rebellion against the United States.?The requirement should be known as the supermajority or simple majority threshold rule. The Senate would be free to adopts its rules on what they believe should constitute a supermajority for final up and down floor votes whether it is 51+1 or the 11/20th rule (55 Senators) or the three-fifth majority (60) votes) and above rule or even a two-third majority in certain cases.

For those readers of the Times-Union who are interested, please contact your U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator and urge adoption of this proposed amendment.

Alexander Houze