Conflict within and beyond the United States Senate has refocused scholarly and public attention on “advice and consent,” the constitutional provision that governs the Senate's role in confirming presidential appointments. Despite intense and salient partisan and ideological disputes about the rules of the game that govern the Senate confirmation process for judicial appointees, reformers have had little success in limiting the ability of a minority to block contentious nominees. In this paper, we explore the Senate's brush with the so-called “nuclear option” that would eliminate filibusters of judicial nominees, and evaluate competing accounts of why the Senate appears to be so impervious to significant institutional reform. The past and present politics of the nuclear option, we conclude, have broad implications for how we construct theories of institutional change.
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