President Obama will soon name three nominees as a group to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit , according to a Democrat briefed on the matter who asked not to be identified, marking a new stage in the partisan battle over judicial nominations.
The decision to push aggressively to fill the three remaining vacancies on one of the nation’s most powerful courts comes after the Senate confirmed Justice Department official Sri Srinivasan to sit on the court last week. The unanimous vote in favor of Srinivasan’s appointment marked the first time since 2006 that the Senate has approved a presidential nominee to the D.C. Circuit.
The plan to fill the vacancies was first reported Monday by the New York Times.
The court holds enormous sway because it rules on a range of domestic policies, from curbing greenhouse gases linked to climate change to providing warning labels for cigarettes. Republicans have suggested shrinking the number of seats on the court from 11 to eight as a way of limiting Obama’s power.
“Packing the D.C. Circuit with three Obama nominees, as the Senate Democratic leaders have said they are doing because the rulings aren’t going their way, cannot make up for the other 52 vacancies in courts that have a higher workload,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s pretty clear the president wants a court that will rubber stamp his agenda.”
White House officials have challenged the Republicans’ proposal. In a blog post to be published Wednesday, Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer called the plan to cut back on D.C. Circuit seats “a blatant attempt to shrink President Obama’s constitutional authority to fill this court.”
Obama has yet to select which three individuals he will propose for the vacancies, according to the Democrat, who asked not to be identified because the decision is still under review. Possible candidates include veteran appellate lawyers David C. Frederick and Patricia A. Millett; Georgetown University Law Center professor Cornelia T. L. Pillard; and Robert L. Wilkins, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Obama has faced fierce resistance to some of his judicial nominees, including New York lawyer Caitlin Halligan, whom the president had previously nominated to the D.C. Circuit. The president withdrew Halligan’s name in March in the face of Republican opposition. Other nominees have had to wait for more than a year to receive confirmation votes on the Senate floor.
Nan Aron, president of the advocacy group Alliance for Justice, welcomed the administration’s push to place appointees on the D.C. Circuit. She noted that 15 of the last 19 appointments to the court had been made by Republicans, including four by President George W. Bush. The court’s makeup is critical, Aron said, “to the future of the president’s domestic agenda, and the fact [is] over time D.C. Circuit judges have been a farm team for the Supreme Court.”
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