What could never happen, finally did.

For more than 30 years the Democratic Senate caucus feebly stood by as Republicans seized control of the federal courts. Now, however, faced with a GOP filibuster of nominees for three vacancies on the appeals court that could determine the fate of most of President Barack Obama’s initiatives, the Democrats have at last responded.

The Democratic Senate majority last month eliminated the 60-vote requirement to end filibusters against presidential nominees to the lower federal courts and the executive branch. With this, they blocked a key element of the GOP’s long-term strategy to overturn the progressive legislative and judicial advances of the past 50 years, and prevent new Democratic initiatives.

Five years into Obama’s tenure, Democratic judicial appointees are still barely even with the number of active Republican judges. There are 93 vacancies, including 37 judicial emergencies as of January 7, with 53 nominations pending. If Obama is to preserve President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy – as well as his own — against the many hostile judges now on the bench, he and the Senate will have to act quickly.

For if the GOP retakes the Senate in November, few of the president’s nominees will be confirmed in 2015-2016. The fate of progressive legislative and regulatory programs will then be in the hands of judges chosen by the next president.

Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 spearheaded this effort, orchestrated by Reagan counselor Edwin Meese III. Meese sought to dominate the federal courts with a two-pronged strategy: appointing youthful ultraconservatives, who could serve 30 to 40 years on the bench, and keeping liberals and moderates off it.