Cornelia Pillard's nomination to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit fell victim to a Republican filibuster Tuesday, the latest episde in a GOP attempt to block President Barack Obama from placing any more Democratic nominees on the nation's second most important court.
Pillard, who had been attacked by conservatives over her pro-choice views on abortion, was the second DC Circuit nominee to be blocked by Republicans in the last month. In October, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Patricia Millett, whom even Ted Cruz acknowledged was qualified for the job. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brings up the nomination of Obama's third DC Circuit pick, Robert Wilkins, Republicans will filibuster him too.
That's because Republicans have decided that no more Obama administration nominees should be placed on the DC Circuit. Three of the eleven seats on the court are vacant, and placing Democratic nominees on the bench would end conservative dominance of the DC Circuit which handles key regulatory and national security cases. Republicans' specific ideological objections to the nominees don't matter as much as their conviction that any Democratic appointees would skew the court to the left, which they want to prevent. Obama has had fewer federal judges confirmed than either of his predecessors. Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley wants to eliminate three seats on the court so as to keep Obama from appointing judges to fill them.
The view that Obama shouldn't be able to place any nominees on the DC Circuit is not only extraordinary, it's contrary to the expressed views of many of the Republican senators who voted to block Pillard's nomination Tuesday and who were in Congress during fights over President George W. Bush's nominees. At least twelve of the senators who voted to block Pillard's nomination argued during the Bush administration that filibustering Bush's judicial nominees was unconstitutional. Now that Obama is president, it's totally kosher.
Senate Democrats really have only two choices now. They can continue allowing Republicans to obstruct Obama's judicial nominees in order to ensure that the federal judiciary skews conservative, or they can "go nuclear" and alter the Senate rules so as to make it more difficult for Republicans to manipulate the federal judiciary by blocking every DC Circuit nominee the president puts forth.