WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans filibustered another one of President Barack Obama’s nominees on Tuesday: Nina Pillard, a Georgetown University law professor and a noncontroversial nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Senate voted 56 to 41 on a procedural motion for Pillard, falling short of the 60 votes needed to bring her confirmation vote to the floor. Only two Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine), sided with Democrats to let her proceed.
Republicans readily admit their opposition to Pillard isn’t about her. In fact, they don’t really have a problem with any of Obama’s picks for the D.C. Circuit, the second most powerful court in the nation. They just don’t want him to fill its three vacancies. Many of them say the court isn’t busy enough to warrant filling its empty seats; others make the counterintuitive argument that Obama is “court-packing” by filling routine vacancies. But both of those arguments gloss over the fact that the president, any president, has a constitutional duty to fill empty court seats, and barring extraordinary circumstances, the Senate is supposed to give nominees a vote.
Pillard’s filibuster is the latest example of how the Senate isn’t holding to that standard anymore. Not only is she the third noncontroversial nominee that Republicans have filibustered in the last two weeks, but she is now the 20th Obama nominee who is either currently being blocked or was blocked and ultimately withdrew from the process. Those blockages cause a logjam that reverberates through the judiciary and the executive branch, as positions have gone unfilled at crisis levels dating back to 2007.
The Huffington Post crunched some data and found that, as of Tuesday, 13 judicial nominees have been returned to Obama and were not renominated or withdrew their nominations, four judicial nominees aren’t moving because GOP senators won’t let them advance in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and three other nominees (two judicial, one executive) were recently filibustered for reasons that had nothing to do with their qualifications.
The diversity of the group is hard to overlook. Ten of the sidelined judicial nominees are women, two are openly gay and nine are minorities (seven are African American, one is Asian American and one is Native American). The lone executive nominee being blocked right now, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), is African American.
Democrats have noted that Republicans keep filibustering female nominees to the D.C. Circuit. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) wondered aloud on the Senate floor “whether there is a double standard” when it comes to putting women on that court. Before Pillard, Republicans also blocked Patricia Millett and Caitlin Halligan.
“Caitlin Halligan, who practiced before the U.S. Supreme Court, was the Solicitor General for the State of New York, why block her? Why block Patty Millett, who worked in the Solicitor General’s office under both administrations?” Kaine asked Thursday. “Why block Nina Pillard? Nina Pillard was the appellate attorney before the United States Supreme Court to argue for the need to admit women students to the Virginia Military Institute.”
“Another woman filibustered … another woman stopped in her tracks,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said after Millett’s blocked vote. “This has to end. We’ve been making so much progress for women in the judicial system.”
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, meanwhile, are fuming about Republicans blocking Watt’s confirmation to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. They note that the filibuster of Watt, an 11-term congressman, marks the first time the Senate has denied a Cabinet post to a sitting member of Congress since 1843.
“What happened today has only occurred once in the history of this Congress,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the caucus, said after Watt was blocked. “This is a disgrace to this body and a disservice to the American people.”
Senate Republicans have taken offense at the suggestion that they’re blocking nominees for being women or minorities.
“When [Democrats] run out of legitimate arguments, their last line of defense is to accuse Republicans of opposing nominees based upon gender or race. It’s an old and it’s a well-worn card,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday. “Those types of attacks are beneath this institution.”