Senate Republicans who blocked the second of three of President Obama’s recent nominees to an important federal appeals court this week deserve most of the bad things being said about them. The filibustering of qualified nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is blatantly partisan and intellectually dishonest.
The Republicans claim they are blocking the nominations because the D.C. Circuit is underworked and could get by with fewer judges — and besides, Obama is trying to “pack” the court with liberals.
Actually, it’s the Republicans who are behaving more like the court-packing President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Like FDR, they want to influence the ideology of a court — the D.C. Circuit in their case — by manipulating the number of its judges. But whereas Roosevelt wanted to increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court, the GOP wants to reduce the number of seats on the D.C. Circuit, arguably the most influential appeals court and a farm team for Supreme Court justices.
So the Republicans are being irresponsible and obstructionist, and it would serve them right if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stiffened his spine and invoked the “nuclear option” that would allow the Senate to eliminate filibusters by a simple majority vote.
But are the Republicans also guilty of sexism?
That idea is being floated by Senate Democrats. On Tuesday, as the Senate was preparing to vote on cloture for the nomination of Georgetown University law professor Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, warned: “If Republicans vote in lock-step to continue their filibuster against Nina Pillard, Senate Republicans will have blocked three outstanding women in a row from being confirmed to what is considered the second-highest court in our country.” The other two were Patricia Millett, one of the three recent nominees, and Caitlin Halligan, whose nomination was withdrawn at her request.
Leahy also tweeted: “If R's put politics aside & Confirm Millett & Pillard, DC Circuit would be 1st Cir Ct in history w/equal number of women judges as men.”
Playing the gender card may shame a few Republicans into abandoning the filibuster, but it’s a pretty bogus argument. It’s pretty clear that the GOP will also block the third pending Obama nominee to the D.C. Circuit, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, and in the past Republicans have happily confirmed female nominees to courts viewed as less pivotal than the D.C. Circuit. Last year, 39 of 42 Republicans voting supported the confirmation of former Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The GOP filibuster is a war on comity and a war on the courts, but it’s not a war on women.
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