NOW Today: Vacancy or no vacancy?

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 03:  U.S. President Barack Obama delivers opening remarks to the White House Mental Health Conference in the East Room of the White...
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 03: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers opening remarks to the White House Mental Health Conference in the East Room of the White...
Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Tuesday morning, President Obama announced three nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals at a ceremony in the Rose Garden. The President tapped U.S. District Court judge Robert Leon Wilkins, Georgetown Law Professor Cornelia Pillard and attorney Patricia Ann Millett to the court. The D.C. Circuit Court is considered the second most powerful in the nation, second only to the Supreme Court, or as Chief Justice John Roberts described it in a 2005 lecture, the court has a “special responsibility to review legal challenges to the conduct of the national government.” And as such, President Obama’s selections are expected to face some severe partisan challenges. Senator Charles Grassley (IA-R), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Monday, “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. It’s hard to imagine any reason for three more judges, no matter who nominates them.” Grassley is pushing for legislation that would eliminate the seats, arguing that the court is “the least busy circuit in the country.” But when measured by the number of pending appeals divided by the number of active judges, the midwest-based Eight Circuit would have the lowest caseload. The D.C. Circuit also hears a larger percentage of cases involving the federal government than other appeals courts, and they often involve extremely complex and time-consuming conflicts, such as federal regulation of the environment and  national security.  But this has not prevented the Senator Grassley, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other republicans from obstruction and accusations of “court-packing.” But the term actually refers to Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attempt to add more seats to the Supreme Court in order to get favorable rulings, and has nothing to do with filling existing vacancies. Yet that hasn’t stopped members of the GOP from using the phrase, nor has the fact that the President, by nominating judges, is performing his constitutional duty. It’s something that Presidents from both sides of the aisle have always done. There is also a way to avoid any republican-led obstruction: eliminate the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he is considering eliminating the 60-vote threshold to approve judicial and executive nominees, by reviving the so-called “nuclear option.” The question is, will he? And how will what happens in the days and weeks ahead affect the Obama agenda and legacy? We’ll dive deep into the pool of the judicial nominating process when we see you at noon ET on msnbc.



Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Contributing Editor, New York Magazine (@benwallacewells)

Joan Walsh, Editor-at-Large, political analyst (@joanwalsh)

Jonathan Capehart, The Washington Post/msnbc Contributor (@capehartj)

Josh Barro, Columnist, Bloomberg View (@jbarro)



Jeremy Scahill, National Security Correspondent, The Nation/Author, “Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield” (@jeremyscahill)

PJ Crowley, Fmr. Assistant Sec. of State, Fmr. Spokesman, State Department (@PJCROWLEY)

NOW Today: Vacancy or no vacancy?