Senate Votes to End Nominee Filibusters

Senate Democrats have voted to reduce the number of votes needed to confirm presidential nominees from a supermajority to a simple majority, the so-called "nuclear option," essentially ending the filibuster of nominations like those that held up FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly.

The shift in the power to appoint nominees, in this case judges, could affect government decisions on telecom policy, which are overseen by the D.C. Circuit. For example, that court is currently considering a challenge to the FCC's network neutrality rules and would hear a legal challenge to the FCC's incentive auction rules, which National Association of Broadcasters spectrum point person Rick Kaplan has said is likely no matter how the rules are framed.

Republicans had been blocking votes on D.C. judges, among others, saying that the circuit caseload was already light, and suggesting the Democrats wanted to change the makeup of the court to one more amenable to their views. The court currently comprises eight members, four appointed by Republican Presidents, four by Democrats.

NAB President Gordon Smith, a former Senator himself, said he was concerned the move would further politicize the courts and that Democrats would likely lament the decision when they were no longer in the majority. "Paybacks are hell," he said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.