On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Patricia Millett’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, despite ongoing Republican attempts to block any confirmations to the second most powerful court in the country.
The 10-8 vote was along party lines, with all Republican senators on the committee voting against Millett. Critics of Millet’s nomination were transparent about their reasons for opposing the nominee, acknowledging that Millet, a partner at a prominent national law firm and experienced litigator who has appeared before the Supreme Court over 30 times, is more than qualified to sit on the federal bench. “I have no objection to her, personally,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said before the vote. “I don’t know enough about her but I think she’s probably well-qualified.”
Not surprisingly, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) took time before the vote to challenge both Millett’s nomination as well as the nomination of former Justice Department lawyer and current Georgetown University Law Center professor Nina Pillard who has come under fire from conservatives as a “militant” feminist critical of abstinence-only sex education and hostile to religious rights. Sessions, along with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), are pushing the misleadingly named Court Efficiency Act, a piece of legislation that would cap the total number of judges on the D.C. Circuit Court to seven, under the guise that the court’s workload no longer demands 11 justices. It’s a devious strategy that not only assures the conservative-leaning circuit court continues to lean conservative but also gives Senate Republicans cover in continuing to block President Obama’s judicial nominees by arguing their concerns are fiscal, not ideological.
In many ways, Millett is an easier vote to advance for Republicans than Pillard. Millet served in the solicitor general’s office for 11 years under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush and is seen by many as a moderate. President Obama’s other nominee to the circuit court, Robert L. Wilkins, is a current federal district judge who had previously worked as a public defender and corporate defense lawyer. Like Millett, Wilkins shares bipartisan support and should, absent any additional gamesmanship by Republicans, be confirmed.
But additional gamesmanship by the Republicans is almost a guarantee. They clearly have their sights set on retaining conservative control over the D.C. circuit, remain very bitter about Democrats’ successful efforts to keep former Bush nominee Miguel Estrada off the bench, and have every reason to push Senate Democrats on filibuster reform since the Democrats have largely been all talk and no action on the issue. The Senate is not expected to vote on these nominees until after the August recess, leaving open the question of whether lawmakers will spend the month crafting an agreement to get these well-qualified and deserving nominees confirmed, or if Republicans will use the time to shore up support for yet another filibuster.