Despite her credentials and centrist political positions, Republicans in the Senate filibustered the nomination of Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Millett had the support of a majority of the Senate, but the 55-38 vote was not enough to clear the 60-vote threshold to overcome Republican obstruction.
Millett, the first of President Obama’s three nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. During her career as a litigator, she has argued 32 times before the Supreme Court. During hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans acknowledged that Millett is an excellent candidate who is well-suited for the court. But Senate Republicans, led by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley have accused President Obama of trying to “stack the court” by nominating candidates to fill the three open seats. Instead, Republicans argue, those open D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seats should be cut, and the court should operate at its current capacity.
But members of the federal judiciary, including Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, strongly oppose Grassley’s plan. Chief Justice Roberts and others point out that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is, like many of our federal courts, operating in a state of crisis, overwhelmed by deep budget cuts as a result of the sequester in addition to a mounting caseload of complex regulatory challenges.
“Make no mistake: this vote wasn’t about the impeccable qualifications of Patricia Millett, nor was it about the current caseload on the D.C. Circuit,” said Alliance For Justice President Nan Aron in a statement. “Rather, Republicans are desperate to thwart President Obama’s efforts to carry out his duty under the Constitution to fill judicial vacancies,” Aron said. “If an extremist minority in the Senate insists on imposing their own ideological agenda through an abuse of Senate process, then Senate rules must be changed to ensure that qualified nominees get a yes-or-no vote.”
During his time in office, President Obama has only placed one judge on the D.C. Circuit. Sri Srinivasan was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in May, making him the first new judge on the court since 2006. In March, the White House withdrew the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for the D.C. Circuit Court after anti-choice groups joined forces with the National Rifle Association to pressure Republicans to block her nomination.
Senate Democrats promised to re-vote on the Millett nomination soon. Just prior to her vote, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) made it clear that should Republicans block Millett’s nomination, Democrats would push for the so-called nuclear option and change Senate rules to strip Republicans of the ability to filibuster presidential nominations. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) struck a slightly more conciliatory tone, repeating his hopes that Republicans would stop blocking qualified candidates to the federal bench.
Had she been confirmed, Millet would have been only the sixth woman to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.