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Republican filibuster blocks Obama appeals court nominee

November 12, 2013|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republican senators at the Capitol.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republican senators… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans blocked another of President Obama’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the latest chapter in a long-running battle between the parties over seats on the influential court.

The 56 to 41 vote for Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, a Georgetown law professor, was shy of the 60 needed to end a Republican filibuster. One senator voted present.

Pillard was one of three nominees Obama announced in June to fill out the court, considered second only to the U.S. Supreme Court in its importance in the judicial branch. Another, Patricia Millett, failed in a similar party-line vote on Nov. 1. Senate leaders are expected to call a vote soon on the remaining nominee, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins.

The court’s membership is currently evenly divided between judges named by Democratic and Republican presidents, and Republicans have maintained that Obama’s attempt to fill the three vacancies amounts to an attempt to stack the court.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also repeated another Republican argument Tuesday, saying the D.C. Circuit caseload doesn’t justify additional judges.

The Senate “ought to be spending its time dealing with a real crisis,” the flawed rollout of Obama’s healthcare law, McConnell said, instead of the “manufactured crisis” of a court that doesn’t have “enough work to go around.”

Democrats reject that argument, and note that McConnell voted to support George W. Bush’s appointees for the same seats.

“They happily filled the ninth, 10th and 11th seats on the D.C. Circuit – the same seat that President Obama seeks to fill today – even though the court had a smaller caseload … at the time,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that Senate Republicans have now blocked three “highly qualified” female appointees this year, including Caitlin Halligan, who was blocked in March. Another Obama nominee, Srikanth "Sri" Srinivasan, was confirmed without a single no vote in May.

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“I guess if you’re a Republican and nominate a qualified man, they can go through easily. If you’re a Democrat and nominate an equally qualified woman, they’re going to be filibustered,” Leahy said. “What does this say?”

Pillard, 52, worked as an assistant solicitor general at the Justice Department and spent five years as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. As a member of the Georgetown faculty, she defended the constitutionality of the Family and Medical Leave Act against a challenge brought by state officials.

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