Something happened on the Senate floor today that, unfortunately, seemed pretty remarkable. In this instance, there was a vacancy on a key federal bench, so the president nominated a qualified jurist for the post. She was approved easily by the Judiciary Committee, and even Republicans couldn’t think of any substantive reasons to oppose her nomination.
The matter went to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote, and a couple of hours ago, senators cast their votes. They were tallied, and since a majority supported her nomination, she was confirmed.
The Senate voted 56-38 Tuesday to confirm Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court, making her the first nominee of President Obama’s to clear the Senate since Democrats unilaterally changed the rules in a vote last month. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted with Democrats.
The rule change means only 51 votes are needed to end a filibuster on nominations below the level of the Supreme Court.
“I’m pleased that in a bipartisan vote, the Senate has confirmed Patricia Millett to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, filling a vacancy that has been open since 2005,” President Obama said in a statement. “Ms. Millett is a leading appellate lawyer who has made 32 arguments before the Supreme Court, the second-most by a female advocate. She has served in the Department of Justice for both Democratic and Republican Presidents. I’m confident she will serve with distinction on the federal bench.”
Of course, none of this should be considered remarkable at all. On the contrary, what happened with the Millett nomination was considered basic American governance for generations, right up until obstructionism became the norm. When the Senate Republican minority said it would impose a blockade on all nominees to the D.C. Circuit, regardless of merit or qualifications, it left the Democratic majority with no choice but to pursue the so-called “nuclear option,” which allowed the up-or-down vote on Millett.
On the all-important D.C. Circuit, there are still vacancies to be filled, but there are now five judges appointed by Democratic presidents and four judges appointed by Republican presidents. It’s exactly the scenario GOP senators fought so desperately to avoid.
The final roll call is online here. Expect action soon on Rep. Mel Watt’s (D-N.C.) nomination to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which also fell victim to a Republican filibuster that is no longer an option.