In an unprecedented move today, Senate democrats invoked the so-called "nuclear option," making it easier for Senators to block filibusters of executive or judicial nominees. The move, triggered through a point-of-order vote, allows senators to overrule executive and judicial filibusters with just 51 votes, rather than the usual 60. That will allow nominees to proceed on straight party lines and, in the short term, allow President Obama to fill a number of empty seats on circuit courts and within the government.
In the long term, the effects of the rule change are harder to predict. The new arrangement won't affect filibusters on laws or Supreme Court nominations, but rather the widespread filibusters of judicial and executive nominees. (One recent example was Rand Paul's anti-drone filibuster in March, which moved to block John Brennan as CIA director.) The filibusters have become increasingly common since the Clinton and Bush administrations, used not just to block excessively ideological nominees but to prevent any nominee from advancing, stymying both courts and cabinet positions. As Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put it on the house floor, the result is a fundamentally dysfunctional system, hopefully made less dysfunctional by the new changes. "Is the Senate working now? Can anyone say the Senate is working now?" Reid asked the Congress, according to Talking Points Memo. "I don't think so."
In a public statement after the vote, President Obama supported Reid's decision, focusing on the unprecedented nature of recent filibusters. "This isn't obstruction on substance. It's just to gum up the works," Obama told the group. "What's at stake is the ability of any president to fulfill his or her constitutional duty."