GOP fil­i­busters another Obama court nom­i­nee

Vote could bring ‘nu­clear op­tion’ back into play

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Repub­li­can se­na­tors on Tues­day fil­i­bus­tered another of Pres­i­dent Obama’s nom­i­nees to the fed­eral ap­peals court in Wash­ing­ton, escalating the bat­tle over judges and leav­ing Democrats en­raged and vow­ing to push again to change the cham­ber’s rules.

The vote blocked Ge­orge­town Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Nina Pil­lard from a seat on the D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals, which, be­cause it han­dles so many key gov­ern­ment cases, is of­ten con­sid­ered the sec­ond-most im­por­tant bench be­hind the Supreme Court.

Repub­li­cans didn’t ques­tion her qual­i­fi­ca­tions, but said the D.C. court al­ready has enough judges. They ac­cused Democrats of try­ing to pack the court with lib­eral nom­i­nees to pun­ish the cur­rent judges for hav­ing ruled against Mr. Obama on sev­eral key cases.

Ms. Pil­lard be­comes the third fe­male nom­i­nee to the D.C. court that Repub­li­cans have fil­i­bus­tered this year, lead­ing Demo­cratic women to ac­cuse the GOP of cre­at­ing a glass ceil­ing. Other Democrats said they will re­new their push to change the rules and try to end fil­i­busters — the so-called “nu­clear op­tion.”

“There comes a tip­ping point, and we have reached that tip­ping point,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the sec­ond-rank­ing Demo­crat, told re­porters af­ter Tues­day’s vote left Democrats three shy of the 60 needed to head off a fil­i­buster.

Two Repub­li­cans — Sens. Su­san M. Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted with Democrats. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid flipped his vote at the end as a par­lia­men­tary tac­tic so that he can de­mand a revote later on.

The D.C. court has eight full-time judges — four ap­pointed by Repub­li­cans and four by Democrats. But it also has six se­nior judges who hear cases, though on a less-fre­quent ba­sis. Of those, five were ap­pointed by Repub­li­cans.

Democrats said the GOP is fil­i­bus­ter­ing to try to main­tain its ide­o­log­i­cal bal­ance.

“It has reached the point where judges are be­ing voted on for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons, not qual­i­fi­ca­tions,” said Sen. Pa­trick J. Leahy, Vermont Demo­crat and chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “You do that, you’re go­ing to de­stroy the in­tegrity of the fed­eral courts.”

But con­ser­va­tives said Democrats passed that point long ago, be­gin­ning with their re­fusal to al­low a vote on John G. Roberts Jr. when he was first nom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush to the D.C. Cir­cuit Court. More than a decade later, Mr. Bush’s son renom­i­nated Judge Roberts, first for the D.C. Cir­cuit and even­tu­ally as chief jus­tice of the United States, where he cur­rently sits.

Af­ter that ini­tial nom­i­na­tion, Repub­li­cans slow-walked sev­eral of Pres­i­dent Clin­ton’s nom­i­nees. Democrats re­tal­i­ated un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush by launch­ing the first- ever par­ti­san fil­i­busters of ap­peals court nom­i­nees.

When Mr. Obama took of­fice, Repub­li­can se­na­tors said they would fol­low that same path.

“Th­ese are the rules es­tab­lished by the other side, and now when they’re on the re­ceiv­ing side of those same rules, they want those rules changed,” Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, the rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, said on the Se­nate floor Tues­day. “We don’t in­tend to play by two sets of rules.”

Mr. Grass­ley also didn’t shy away from Democrats’ threat to change the rules to end fil­i­busters of ju­di­cial nom­i­nees.

“I say, go ahead,” the Iowa Repub­li­can said. “There are a lot more [An­tonin] Scalias and [Clarence] Thomases out there that we’d love to put on the bench. The nom­i­nees we’d nom­i­nate and con­firm with 51 votes will in­ter­pret the Con­sti­tu­tion as it was writ­ten.”


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