How to Fix the Senate?

Sarah Binder and Forrest Maltzman join a discussion with The Washington Post to name one idea — other than reforming the much-discussed filibuster — that might get Congress moving.

We would like to see a “fast track” for judicial nominations to fix the confirmation morass that plagues the Senate. The proposal might only unthaw one aspect of the Senate. But given lengthy delays for nominees, declining confirmation rates and long-empty seats on the federal bench, fixing how the Senate practices “advice and consent” is essential.

Our idea harnesses the president’s interest in filling judgeships quickly and senators’ interests in preserving their influence in selecting judges. First, senators would create bipartisan judicial selection commissions in their home states. The commissions would approve several candidates for vacant federal judgeships, offering those names for White House consideration. If the president chose a recommended nominee, that nominee would be fast-tracked to a confirmation vote.

The Senate could set in statute the length of the track to ensure adequate review and debate in committee and on the chamber floor, guaranteeing at a time certain an up-or-down confirmation vote. If the president opted to ignore the commission’s recommendations, the nominee would face the usual vagaries of advice and consent — a long, drawn-out process likely to be punctuated by secret holds, cloture motions and no guarantee of a vote.

Fast-track (which has already been used by the Senate for budget, trade and other matters) would eliminate hostage-taking by senators, fill vacant judgeships more swiftly and potentially bolster the legitimacy of an unelected bench. Who knows — it might even help repair the badly frayed fabric of Senate trust.