“Sri’s confirmation will be an important first step to filling this court’s four vacancies, and he will be, when confirmed, the first South Asian circuit court judge in history,” Carney said, adding that the D.C. Circuit “is often considered the nation’s second-highest court, but it has twice as many vacancies as any other court of appeals.”
Although a number of Obama’s judicial nominees are awaiting confirmation — 15 are awaiting Senate floor votes, including 13 who won unanimous approval from the judiciary panel — the D.C. Circuit has taken on outsize importance because of its conservative tilt and its role overseeing Obama’s executive authority.
In January, the court threw out a decision by the National Labor Relations Board on grounds that the recess appointments Obama made to the board were invalid. Since then, the court has put dozens of NLRB cases on hold, prompting concern in organized labor, a key Obama base.
“It’s no exaggeration to say the workers’ rights agenda is either on hold or blowing up at the D.C. Circuit, in the hands of a few conservative judges,” said Lynn Rhinehart, general counsel for the AFL-CIO.
The court is just as influential when it comes to environmental cases. It has exclusive jurisdiction over national rules issued under the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, among other laws. It will have the power to block Obama’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
“D.C. Circuit litigation will ensure these programs pass legal muster,” said Joseph Stanko, who heads government relations at the law firm Hunton & Williams and represents several coal-fired utilities that oppose rules governing greenhouse gas emissions.
The White House effort, which includes pinning the blame on Republican senators for rampant federal court vacancies, has led to some additional bickering over who is at fault.
Vacancies have grown under Obama, and the president has nominated replacements at a slower rate than those of his immediate predecessors, according to a report the Brookings Institution issued in December.
When Obama made a pitch for his judicial nominees in a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans a few weeks ago, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) questioned how the president could complain when he had not offered judicial nominees for several vacancies.
“Despite the rhetoric coming out of the White House, the numbers just don’t stand up,” Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Out of the 87 judicial vacancies in the federal courts, 62 of them don’t have nominees, and the only nominee for the D.C. Circuit has a hearing next week,”
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