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Obama to Republicans: Don't block my judges

President Obama nominated three top lawyers to the D.C. Circuit, the nation's second most important court. The move signals a willingness to spend political capital on his legal legacy. 

By Staff writer / June 4, 2013

President Obama speaks from the Rose Garden of the White House to announce his three nominees to fill vacancies on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Washington on Tuesday. The nominees will be attorney Patricia Ann Millett (r.), Georgetown law professor Cornelia Pillard (behind Mr. Obama) and US District Court Judge Robert Leon Wilkins (l.).

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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Washington

A fiery President Obama laid down the gauntlet to Republicans Tuesday, nominating three top lawyers to fill all the vacancies on the second most important court in the country.

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Mr. Obama has faced political pressure from both sides on the issue of vacant federal court seats, particularly those in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, aka the D.C. Circuit. Democrats have wanted him to move more aggressively with nominations, while Republicans say the D.C. Circuit doesn’t even need more judges, and are promoting a plan to shift seats to other circuits.

In his Rose Garden announcement, Obama blamed Senate Republicans for blocking his judicial nominees, calling their motives political, and noting that when they do reach the floor of the Senate, they are confirmed with bipartisan support.

“So this is not about principled opposition; this is about political obstruction,” Obama said.

In his remarks, Obama claimed that his judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of his Republican predecessor, and made that point twice for emphasis. Obama also acknowledged that Democrats, too, held up judicial nominations when he was in the Senate.

“But what's happening now is unprecedented,” Obama said. “For the good of the American people, it has to stop. Too much of the people's business is at stake. Our legal framework depends on timely confirmations of judicial nominees.”

Federal court nominations, which are made for life, represent an important part of a president’s legacy. And by moving three names at once, the president is signaling that he’s ready to use political capital on the matter. Critics of the president accused him of moving now to create a distraction from the troubles plaguing various federal agencies and departments, including the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department.

As expected, the president nominated a diverse trio of respected legal figures to the D.C. Circuit:

Patricia Ann Millett runs the Supreme Court practice at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C., and has argued 32 cases before the US Supreme Court – until recently, Obama said, a record for a female lawyer. She also served nine years, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, as an assistant to the solicitor general at the Justice Department.

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