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Abortion and contraception rulings spurred Democrats to change filibuster

Posted Dec 2, 2013 6:45 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The turning point for Democrats balking about changing the filibuster rules came on Halloween and the day that followed.

In opinions issued on those two days, one federal appeals court allowed a controversial abortion law to take effect and another found for a company that opposes the contraceptive mandate in the health-care law. Democrats had allowed the appointment of the conservative judges who wrote those rulings, the New York Times reports, as part of a 2005 deal with Senate Republicans.

The two judges were Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Priscilla Owen of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Democrats had approved those judges after Senate Republicans threatened to block judicial filibusters.

Further emboldening Democrats was a GOP campaign this month to block President Obama's nominees to fill three D.C. Circuit vacancies.

Democrats changed the rules on Nov. 21 to allow a simple majority to break a filibuster. According to the Times, "the decision represented a recognition by Democrats that they had to risk a backlash in the Senate to head off what they saw as a far greater long-term threat to their priorities in the form of a judiciary tilted to the right."

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