Leading up to the successful rules change in the Senate to require a simple majority vote on presidential nominees, CNN gave air time to a number of right-wing myths about the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, among them that the court is ideologically balanced and that Senate Democrats' decision to embrace the "nuclear option" could make the Senate even more volatile in the future.
On November 21, in response to Republicans' blanket filibustering of President Barack Obama's judicial and executive nominees, Democrats reformed the rules of the Senate (a common practice) to prevent this unprecedented abuse of the filibuster. While reporting on this new rule that will restore up-or-down votes for the backlog of highly-qualified and mainstream nominees, CNN unfortunately repeated right-wing media myths on filibuster reform and the D.C. Circuit. Before the final vote, CNN's chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash initially minimized the unprecedented obstructionism on the part of Republicans, saying that a rule change could make the legislative body "even more partisan" should the GOP regain a majority in the Senate down the road. Bash went on to say that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was considering the so-called "nuclear option" because he wanted "to make a political point," ignoring that the mass filibusters have threatened to grind agencies to a halt:
BASH: What [the "nuclear option"] means in layman's terms is that it could be even more partisan on Capitol Hill, if you can imagine that, than it is now. The reason that the Democratic leader is going to seek to change the rules is because they're very frustrated with the fact that Republicans have been holding up the president's nominees. Let's just take a step back and talk about what we're discussing. ... [T]he current rules allow the minority to filibuster, and it requires 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. What this rule change would do, would effectively take away the minority's rights on most of the president's nominees for the executive branch and also for the bench, except for the Supreme Court.
Now you might ask well if this is the case why don't people in the majority, parties in the majority change the rules all the time? The reason is, there's a reason it's called the nuclear option, it is because institutionally, both parties have this sort of an understanding that they may be in the majority now but they could be in the minority tomorrow and part of the beauty of the Senate, in the Senate rules at least for the past few decades, has been that minority rights are pretty strong, as opposed to the House and so the respect for that has made it, made the leaders in both parties reluctant to change the rules, but Harry Reid has gotten so fed up and wants to make a political point right now and so it looks like it might happen today.
Although Bash appears to agree with the idea that it's increasingly likely that Senate Republicans will change procedural rules in the future now that Democrats have reformed the rules, her assertion that the "nuclear option" would make Washington "even more partisan" ignores the hyper-partisan maneuvers Senate Republicans have already employed. It is precisely because Senate Republicans have engaged in such partisanship that Democrats were forced to consider a rule change. In just the last few weeks, Republicans have topped off their historic streak of mindless filibustering by blocking three D.C. Circuit nominees in a row -- and not because they have qualms about their qualifications.
A later report from Bash not only overlooked the severity of the GOP's blanket filibustering of Obama's highly-qualified, mainstream, and diverse nominees, it also advanced the myth that the D.C. Circuit is ideologically balanced, a false claim she also made on November 19.
It is true that, among active judges, the court is balanced with four Democratic appointees and four Republican appointees. However, Bash fails to mention that there are six judges on the D.C. Circuit who are currently on "senior status," five of whom are Republican appointees. Like the "active" judges, senior judges frequently hear arguments and help decide cases. The D.C. Circuit is hardly balanced -- Republican appointees outnumber Democratic appointees nine to five.
It's disappointing to see repeatedly debunked myths make the jump from right-wing outlets to supposedly reputable news organizations. As mainstream reporting begins to explain arcane Senate rules and the intricacies of the D.C. Circuit in more depth now that filibuster reform has passed, the need for accuracy is even more critical.