WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republicans seemed ready to block another of President Barack Obama’s picks for one of the nation’s top courts on Tuesday, the latest skirmish in a nominations battle that has intensified partisan tensions in the Senate.
Senators planned to vote on Obama’s selection of Georgetown University law professor Cornelia Pillard to fill one of three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Majority Democrats were expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP procedural blockade against Pillard’s nomination.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the vote on Pillard “a political exercise designed to distract the American people from the mess that is Obamacare,” a reference to the 2010 health care law that is getting off to a troubled start. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Republicans were making “cynical arguments in an effort to maintain an ideological edge” among judges on the D.C. circuit.
The D.C. circuit’s eight current judges are evenly divided between those appointed by Democratic and Republican presidents.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the GOP was blocking approval of “yet another talented female jurist.” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, called that argument “offensive,” adding that Democrats’ “last line of defense is to accuse Republicans of opposing nominees based upon gender or race.”
Democrats have been threatening that if Republicans continue derailing Obama’s nominations, they might unilaterally rewrite Senate rules to make it harder for the chamber’s minority party to do that. It is unclear that Democrats have enough votes to do so, with some senior lawmakers warning that the change would boomerang against them should the GOP recapture the Senate majority and the White House.
The D.C. circuit court is generally considered second in clout only to the Supreme Court. It rules on White House and federal agency actions, and some of its judges customarily have been elevated to Supreme Court justices.