One triumph was the Senate’s rebuttal of President Franklin Roosevelt’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court with sympathetic justices in 1937. FDR took it for granted thatthe loyal Senate, controlled by his vice president, John Garner, would rubber-stamp hislegislation that was designed to thwart any Supreme Court challenge to New Deallegislation. Instead, individual senators did what the Constitution mandated them to doand stood up to the President, and the deliberative body did what it was allowed to dowhen it conducted unlimited debate, both in Judiciary Committee hearings and on thefloor of the Senate. Several senators made impassioned speeches in favor of judicialindependence, including Josiah Bailey of North Carolina, whose powerful oratorychanged other senators’ minds. Seduced by his own overwhelming popularity, Rooseveltoverplayed his hand and was ultimately thwarted by a bipartisan coalition of Republicansand conservative Democrats.Historian Robert Caro describes this episode in
Master of the Senate,
part three of his indispensable biography of Lyndon Johnson. In 2005, Harry Reid drew the passage tomy attention when he sent me a photocopy of it, along with a handwritten note sayingthat it reminded him of me. It is the kind of friendly and collegial gesture that senatorsoften make toward each other.Harry’s note coincided with a systematic Democratic filibuster of President GeorgeW. Bush’s judicial nominees, which was a corrosive force in the Senate. The RepublicanMajority Leader sought to break the logjam by exercising the so-called nuclear option, bywhich a “cloture” motion to end a filibuster could be passed by a simple majority rather than a sixty-vote threshold.A cloture motion ends debate at once and moves the issue straight to a vote. Makingthis process easier was perceived by many, myself included, to be a severe diminution of the rights of the minority. Fourteen like-minded legislators, seven Republicans and sevenDemocrats—we were known as the “Gang of 14”—came together in a bipartisan spirit toforestall the nuclear option by agreeing we would support a filibuster of judicialnominees under “extraordinary circumstances.” The agreement was the verymanifestation of consensus-building and the power of trust. It is not always the rules thatrequire changing but rather how we use them.When I departed the Senate in 2013, its landscape not only was very different fromwhat it was in 1937, but had even changed substantially from 2005. More recently,legislative outcomes are often preordained, and positions have usually solidified along party lines before a bill even reaches the Senate floor. Today, people rarely rush fromSenate offices and cloakrooms to the floor and the galleries to hear a consequentialspeech. We might take solace from the fact that it wasn’t always like this in Congress,nor does it have to be this way in the future. I came to Washington in 1979 determined tomake an impact (when I became a member of the House that year, I joined a cross-partywomen’s caucus whose work yielded real practical results), and possessed of the samespirit, I intend to continue this effort now on another stage.