Brian Darling

Coming this summer: a national debate on the “Thurmond Rule.”


Named for its originator, the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), this rule of political conduct stipulates that the party not occupying the White House shall block any and all judicial nominees brought before the Senate during a presidential campaign season.


There is a two-fold rationale for the rule: It preserves an incoming president’s right to nominate for open positions, and it keeps a lame duck president from loading up the federal courts with cronies and ideologues.


Note to conservatives: Filibuster them all. It makes sense to prevent a president from handing out lifetime federal court appointments while he is on the way out the door. Those individuals could dramatically impact constitutional and statutory interpretation long after their patron has left the Oval Office.


Remember that the Senate is neither a rubber stamp nor a speed bump for nominations. Article II, Sec.2 of the Constitution states that the President “shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate” to “nominate” and “appoint” federal judges. The Senate thus has a clear responsibility, first, to advise the President, and then to consent—or not consent—regarding nominees.


Sen. Thurmond first implemented his rule in 1980, when he announced that, after the July Republican National Convention, he would block confirmation of all of Jimmy Carter’s nominees to the federal bench. Since then, both sides have embraced the rule, invoking it as early as April or May before a presidential election.


On March 7, 2008 , for example, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), announced that “the ‘Thurmond Rule’… is a rule that we still follow, and it will take effect very soon here.” A month later, on April 15 , Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, “There is a Thurmond doctrine that says: After June, we will have to take a real close look at judges in a Presidential election year. June is fast approaching. I believe that is the time set forth in the Thurmond doctrine.”


Brian Darling

Brian Darling is Sr. Vice President for Third Dimension Strategies, a strategic communications public relations firm in Washington, D.C. Darling served as Sr. Communications Director and Counsel for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) from 2012-15. Before his tenure with Sen. Paul, Darling served in three different capacities with The Heritage Foundation. Follow him @BrianHDarling on Twitter.