President Obama announced his nomination of three judges to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Tuesday morning in the Rose Garden, and included a brief history lesson.
“Time and again, congressional Republicans cynically used Senate rules and procedures to delay and even block qualified nominees from coming to a full vote,” the president said. “As a result, my judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor. Let me repeat that: My nominees have taken three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor. ”
Obama’s first nomination to fill a vacant seat on the D.C. Circuit, Caitlin Halligan, waited 2-1/2 years and endured the Republicans blocking a vote on her confirmation before she ultimately asked that her nomination be withdrawn.
With his nominations of Patricia A. Millett, a veteran appellate lawyer, Cornelia T.L. Pillard, a Georgetown University law professor, and Robert L. Wilkins, the president hopes to leave his mark on the D.C. Circuit – something that nearly all presidents before him — including George W. Bush — successfully achieved.
If confirmed, these nominations would fill the three remaining vacant seats in the second highest court in the nation, which is known for its influence over a variety of domestic policies.
Republican willingness to block the president’s nominations have led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to threaten to go “nuclear” by changing the rules of the Senate and allowing nominees to be approved by a simple majority. The “nuclear” threat is often made and never acted upon. But rejection of all three of the president’s nominees could force a nearly unprecedented crisis.
Since a White House official leaked the nominees’ identities, Republicans have argued that Obama’s simultaneous nominations are an attempt at “court-packing,” though that term is used to describe adding judges to a court in order to circumvent opposition.
“It’s hard to imagine the rationale for nominating three judges at once for this court, given the many vacant emergency seats across the country, unless your goal is to pack the court to advance a certain policy agenda,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said.
Republicans are pushing to reduce the size of the appeals court in Washington by shifting three of its judges to circuit courts in other parts of the country, their argument being that other circuit courts around the nation are overworked and in need of additional judges. Of course, Republicans fully supported all of former president Bush’s efforts to fill D.C. Circuit vacancies.
Some experts are predicting that at least one of the nominees will get through with Reid — who has long been reluctant to change the rules of the Senate — reaching some sort of deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
“One of the picks will get through fairly easily,” writes political scientist Jonathan Bernstein. “One will be killed by filibuster. And the third will be a close call, but probably get through, perhaps with a few Republicans voting yes on cloture but against confirmation.”
With unprecedented Republican obstruction a given, even this would be a small victory.