by Frederick H. Lowe
Senate Republicans on Monday blocked the nomination of Judge Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second-most powerful court in the land, after the United States Supreme Court.
Wilkins is the third of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit that Republicans have blocked. The others are Patricia Millett, an appeals court attorney, and Nina Pillard, a Georgetown University Law School professor.
The Senate voted 53 to 38 to advance Wilkins’ nomination, but 60 votes were needed. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine voted with Democrats to end debate on Wilkins’ nomination.
The court has three vacancies, and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said they need to be filled.
President Obama said he was deeply disappointed by the actions of Senate Republicans.
“Millett, Pillard and Wilkins have received the highest possible rating from American Bar Association,” President Obama said. “They have broad bipartisan support, and no one has questioned their merit.”
The president nominated the three to the D.C. Circuit Court in June.
Wilkins, a U.S. District Court Judge and a Harvard Law School graduate, was a plaintiff in a famous “driving while black,” case titled Wilkins v. Maryland State Police. He and several family members were returning to Washington in 1992, following a funeral when they were stopped by the Maryland State Police.
The police had a policy of stopping black men in new cars because police assumed they were drug dealers. The police ordered Wilkins and his relatives to stand in the rain until they were let go. Wilkins, who was an attorney with the federal defenders program, filed a class-action lawsuit in 1993.
The parties settled the case in 1995, but the Maryland State Police ignored the settlement and continued to stop and search cars driven by black motorists. The American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Maryland NAACP filed a second lawsuit, which was settled in 2008.