In an effort to shape the nation’s judiciary system–and put Senate Republican obstructionism in the spotlight–President Obama plans to simultaneously nominate three judges to the second most powerful court in the country. The president’s announcement will force Republicans to decide whether they will filibuster all three nominations.
By attempting to fill the three current vacancies on the D.C. Court of Appeals, the Democrats, along with President Obama, may be required to use the so-called “nuclear option” in the Senate in order to get those judges confirmed, according to The Washington Post. After privately consulting with the president on a push for filibuster reform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has received support from the president to exercise a nuclear option: a change to the current Senate filibuster rule that sets a 60-vote threshold on all judicial and executive branch nominations.
Last Thursday, Reid said on the Senate floor that he just wants “the Senate to work well.” Reid continued, “This Republican obstruction has created a unreasonable and unworkable standard where minor issues are raised as excuses to block major nominees or to require a 60-vote supermajority for confirmation.”
The D.C. court, considered the most powerful court behind the Supreme Court, has eight sitting judges–four were nominated by Democratic presidents and four were nominated by Republican presidents. The president’s first nominee, Sri Srinivasan, was confirmed by the Senate last week 97-0, after Reid initially threatened to exercise the “nuclear option.” President Obama released a statement shortly after the vote.
“While I applaud the Senate’s action, it’s important to remember that this confirmation is the first one to this important court in seven years. The three remaining vacancies must be filled, as well as other vacancies across the country.”
msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell described the court as “a feeder court to the Supreme Court.”
“Many of the cases brought there involve challenges to federal law that end up being finally decided by the Supreme Court,” O’Donnell explained Tuesday night on his program. “And there is no clearer path to membership on the Supreme Court than the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices served on the D.C. Court of Appeals.”
With three open seats, Obama has an opportunity to change the right-leaning court that has become a Republican tool to circumvent the president’s agenda. Of the six “senior” judges who still regularly hear cases but no longer serve full time, five were appointed by a Republican president.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the president of filling the vacancies with liberals.
“The whole purpose here is to stack the court,” McConnell said about Srinivasan’s nomination. “The real issue here is I guess [Reid] disagrees with the rulings on the D.C. circuit.”
In past years, the court has struck down numerous parts of the president’s agenda on Wall Street and EPA regulations, and recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board; progressives have pressured him to fill the seats before the end of his second term. If Senate Republicans decide to block Obama’s nominations, Democrats will most likely use the “nuclear option” and change the Senate rules. In doing so, they would showcase Republicans obstructionism–while circumventing it as well.