With three nominations to D.C. Circuit court, Obama gets aggressive (+video)
President Obama will move Tuesday to fill all three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, America's top federal appeals court after the Supreme Court and a training ground for future justices. Republicans are already fighting back.
President Obama is set to unveil three nominations Tuesday morning to a top federal appeals court, an aggressive move to fill seats that have long gone vacant amid partisan wrangling.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
If confirmed by the Senate, the three selections would bring the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to 11 judges – a rare moment of full capacity – and address what the Obama administration sees as the court’s conservative tilt. But more likely, the nominees will spark intense Republican opposition and could hasten a showdown over Senate filibusters.
According to published reports, the three nominees are Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.; Patricia Millett, an appellate lawyer; and Robert Wilkins, a federal district judge. The announcement is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Eastern time.
“They’re all very strong,” says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. “There's no real basis to oppose them on the merits. But we’ll see all kinds of arguments that the court doesn’t need more judges…. I think there’s a battle royale coming.”
The D.C. Circuit is widely seen as the second most important court in the nation, after the US Supreme Court. Its cases are often national in scope, involving federal regulations and agencies, as well as national security. Because the Supreme Courts takes so few lower court cases, the D.C. Circuit is typically the last word on important matters. And it is a training ground for the Supreme Court: Four of the nine current justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, served there.
During his presidency, Mr. Obama has won some victories in the D.C. Circuit, but he has also seen parts of his agenda overturned – on the environment, on tobacco, on Wall Street regulation. In January, the court ruled unconstitutional Obama’s three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board last year.
It’s true that the Senate recently voted unanimously to confirm Sri Srinivasan to the D.C. Circuit, making him the first judge to join that court since 2006. But Senate Republicans have made clear that that was a one-off event – and that they believe the D.C. Circuit now has all the judges it needs to handle its case load. In April, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation to add a seat to both the Second and 11th Circuit Courts, and to remove three seats from the D.C. Circuit.
Senator Grassley says the shift of seats away from the D.C. Circuit is necessary to “ease the pressure on the heavy workloads” of the two other courts. But some legal experts say a numerical comparison of the courts’ respective caseloads does not factor in the complexity and scope of the cases that reach the D.C. Circuit.