The U.S. Senate's vote to limit filibusters on presidential nominations could have a potentially far-reaching impact on the chamber's unique procedural tool.
The filibuster -- while long criticized as a handy weapon for obstructionists -- has served as an equalizer. Senators from smaller states, like Hawaii, can use the filibuster to prevent from being streamrolled by the interests of senators from larger states. Without a strong filibuster, the Senate could function more like the House, where the majority almost always prevails.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said he voted for filibuster reform because Senate Republicans have "grinded the government to a halt."
"Half the filibusters in American history happened in the last five years," the senator said. "The reason that I voted for reform is that this institution has ceased to operate in the best interest of the American people. And so it was time to shake some of the cobwebs out and modernize certain aspects of the Senate.
"I certainly think that the Senate ought to be deliberative and the way the Constitution configures the Senate gives weight to each state equally -- which gives Hawaii just as much power as New York or California or Texas. But, simply put, the Senate hasn't been terribly productive, and especially when it comes to filling positions in the judiciary and allowing a president to have her or his Cabinet, it was time to make this move."
The late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye -- who Schatz replaced in the Senate -- used to note with pride that his first vote in the Senate was to preserve a strong filibuster. But in the months before he died last December, Inouye publicly supported limiting the use of filibusters on motions to proceed and on presidential nominations.
The Hawaii Democrat told Roll Call in July 2012:
If there’s going to be a change in the filibuster rules, I hope we can work out something so that something like motion to proceed is not filibustered. I am for the filibuster. I have voted against wiping out filibusters because I represent a very small state, and my state is a state of minorities. We don’t have a majority group, and we believe in giving all minorities their day in court.