Republicans Again Reject Obama Pick for Judiciary

By 
Published: November 12, 2013

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s latest choice to fill one of the vacancies on a powerful appeals court went down in a filibuster on Tuesday as Senate Republicans blocked another White House nominee — the third in two weeks — and deepened a growing conflict with Democrats over presidential appointments.

By a vote of 56 to 41, the nomination of Cornelia T. L. Pillard, a Georgetown law professor, fell short of clearing the necessary 60-vote threshold.

Ms. Pillard’s liberal record on issues like abortion has troubled many conservatives, who are concerned about her attaining a position on a court widely considered second in stature to only the Supreme Court. But Senate Republicans have tried to frame their opposition to her not in terms of her views on social issues, instead focusing on the caseload at the court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is lower than that of other federal appeals courts.

The disagreements carried over onto the Senate floor on Tuesday, as Democrats accused Republicans of blocking a perfectly qualified woman for political purposes, while Republicans said Democrats were desperately looking for a wedge issue.

Looming underneath their disagreements about Ms. Pillard is the likelihood — which appeared to grow considerably on Tuesday — that the fight will escalate and result in a change to the Senate rules to limit the minority party’s ability to filibuster judicial nominees.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, warned Republicans that they were pushing the Senate dangerously close to a tipping point.

“There reaches a point where we can’t allow this type of injustice to occur,” he said, all but threatening that Democrats would be forced to change the rules. “It’s not fair to these nominees,” he added, “to be given the back of the hand by a Republican filibuster on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, dared Democrats to change the rules, saying it would come back to haunt them if they lost the majority.

“Go ahead,” Mr. Grassley said. “There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we’d love to put on the bench,” referring to Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court.

Democrats have made much of the fact that two of the three nominees whom Republicans have rejected recently — and three of the filibustered nominees the president has submitted for the District of Columbia appeals court over the last year — were women. Mr. Grassley rejected the idea that sex played any role in opposition to the nominees.

“When the other side runs out of legitimate arguments, their last line of defense is to accuse Republicans of opposing nominees based upon gender or race,” he said. “It’s a well-worn card. And they play it every time.”

The dispute has brought the Senate to the point of crisis twice this year. But this latest round has become especially intense because of the power of the court in question. It regularly decides cases that determine whether White House-issued regulations are constitutional. Just last week it ruled that the mandate in the Affordable Care Act for employers to provide free coverage for contraception infringes on individual religious liberty.

Social conservatives have seized on Ms. Pillard’s published writings on abortion and motherhood, in which she has staunchly defended a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy as constitutionally protected. One writer for The National Review Online called her “a pro-abortion extremist.”

The nomination of one more judge to the appeals court could move to the Senate floor soon. Robert L. Wilkins, a Federal District Court judge for the District of Columbia, has already cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a floor vote.

 But Republicans have shown no willingness to approve him, either. Speaking after the vote on Tuesday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he believed it had come to the point when Senate filibuster rules must be changed because Republicans were holding the president’s nominees to such “a blatant double standard.”

Slamming his fist on a lectern, he shouted, “Their credibility is shredded!”

 

Advertisements