For the third time in about as many weeks, Republicans have filibustered one of President Obama’s nominees to the influential DC Circuit Court of appeals.
After filibustering experienced Supreme Court litigator Patricia Millett and Georgetown Law professor Cornelia Pillard, Senate Republicans blocked district court judge Robert Wilkins Monday, fulfilling their goal of not allowing a single one of Obama’s recent nominees to the DC Circuit make it to the bench. Obama has seen far more of his nominees blocked than either of the two presidents who came before him, as Republicans have deployed the filibuster to prevent Obama from shifting the federal bench to the left.
“Four of my predecessor’s six nominees to the D.C. Circuit were confirmed,” Obama noted in a statement following the vote. ”Four of my five nominees to this court have been obstructed.”
Senate Republicans have come up with a long list of excuses for engaging in conduct they angrily denounced as unconstitutional when George W. Bush was in office. They’ve said Obama is trying to “pack the court” with ideologues, even though the president is merely filling vacancies, not altering the number of seats on the bench. They’ve argued that the DC Circuit, which hears many high profile regulatory and national security cases, is underworked even though it has a similar caseload to when Bush was making appointments to the court. In moments of honesty, they’ve simply admitted that they’d just rather the influential court stay skewed to the right.
Speaking on the Senate floor Monday evening, Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley came up with a new one: this whole nominating judges thing is just an attempt by the Democratic Party to distract from the difficulties the administration has been having in implementing the Affordable Care Act.
“Rather than focus on this crisis–a real crisis–the other side has developed a strategy specifically designed to divert attention from it,” Grassley declared. “That strategy is to use the D.C. Circuit as a smokescreen.”
President Obama nominated Millett, Pillard and Wilkins in June, months before the difficulties with the Affordable Care Act implementation were known. Republicans had been giving notice of their intent to filibuster every single one of Obama’s nominees to the DC Circuit as far back as August. The problems with the Affordable Care Act exchanges didn’t begin until they opened on October 1.
Obama certainly didn’t need a crystal ball in June to know that Republicans would try to block his nominees. But it’s ludicrous for Grassley to claim, as he did in April, that Obama was engaged in a nefarious “court-packing” scheme–and then say now that the president was nominating judges in an attempt to distract from a political problem that hadn’t happened yet.
Republicans have made it clear that they won’t let a single one of Obama’s nominees through. Democrats have two choices: they can either alter the Senate rules to make it more difficult to filibuster judicial nominees, or they can allow Republicans to continue nullifying the results of the 2008 and 2012 elections by preventing Obama from making appointments to the bench.