GOP Blocks Obama Nominees

Republicans Crush Appeals Court Picks

Washington — Senate Republicans blocked the last of President Obama’s three nominees to a federal appeals court that oversees some of the nation’s biggest business cases, dealing a blow to his efforts to reshape the panel.

The 53-38 roll call Monday was shy of the 60 votes needed to advance the nomination of U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often regarded as the nation’s second-highest after the Supreme Court.

Republicans have accused Obama of trying to fill the court — which often rules on challenges to government regulations — with nominees sympathetic to his regulatory agenda. Democrats argue that Republicans are trying to deny Obama the confirmation votes they routinely gave to President George W. Bush.

“This obstruction is completely unprecedented,” Obama said in a statement Monday, saying he’s “deeply disappointed that Senate Republicans have once again refused to do their job.” He urged the Senate again to take a yes-or-no vote on his judicial nominees.

At stake is the future of a tribunal that has acted as a steppingstone to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts served on the D.C. Circuit, as did Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Two other chief justices, Warren Burger and Fred Vinson, served there as well.

Republicans Monday argued that the 11-member court’s caseload is insufficient to justify filling three vacancies. In a floor speech, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats were trying to “concoct a crisis” over the court so they can “distract Americans from the failings of Obamacare.”

Senate Democrats should instead seek votes to fill vacancies where the U.S. court system has declared a judicial emergency to denote a shortage of judges on courts with overwhelming caseloads “rather than complain about a fake one,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, called the workload argument “a manufactured excuse for them to filibuster an Obama nominee.” Durbin said that when Bush was president “Republicans were eager to confirm nominees for the ninth, 10th and 11th seats on the D.C. Circuit.”

On Oct. 31, the Senate blocked consideration of Washington lawyer Patricia Millett for another vacancy on the court. On Nov. 12, Republicans blocked Georgetown University law professor Nina Pillard’s nomination to a vacancy on the same court.

The actions have revived a call from some Democrats for a change in the Senate’s rules to ban or curb moves to block judicial and some executive-branch nominees.

During almost five years in office, Obama has placed only a single judge, Sri Srinivasan, on the D.C. Circuit. Srinivasan was confirmed in May after Obama’s first nominee, Caitlin Halligan, was blocked. They objected to Halligan’s work as New York State’s solicitor general on a lawsuit against handgun manufacturers.