November 13, 2013 — For the third time in two weeks, Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked one of President Obama's nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, prompting some Democrats to heighten calls for a change in the Senate's filibuster rules, the New York Times reports.
The Senate voted 56-41 in a procedural vote on Obama's nomination of Nina Pillard, a Georgetown University law professor. Sixty votes were needed to overcome the filibuster.
Conservatives have taken issue with Pillard's published writings on social issues, including abortion and motherhood, in which she has vigorously defended a woman's right to end a pregnancy.
However, the Times reports that Senate Republicans' main argument against the nomination has been that the case load for the appeals court does not warrant more appointees. The D.C. Circuit is widely considered second in stature only to the Supreme Court and regularly decides cases that determine whether White House-issued regulations are constitutional (Peters, New York Times, 11/12).
The court has three vacancies. According to Politico, the Senate GOP wants those three seats eliminated from the bench, with two relocated to other Circuit courts (Everett, Politico, 11/12).
Proposed Rule Change
Senate Democrats have accused Republicans of blocking the nominees for political reasons and have threatened to change the chamber rules to ease the confirmation process.
During a news conference after the vote, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, "I think we're at the point where there will have to be a rules change."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) echoed those sentiments, saying, "I think it's a turning point for this body because I think it will necessarily involve us to re-examine these rules" (Saenz, ABC News, 11/13).
Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said changing the rules would place Democrats at a disadvantage if they lost the majority. Grassley said, "Go ahead ... There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we'd love to put on the bench," referring to Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (New York Times, 11/12).