GOP filibusters another Obama court nominee
Vote could bring ‘nuclear option’ back into play
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.”