WASHINGTON — Just a week after the Senate hashed out a compromise for approving seven of President Barack Obama’s nominees to run government departments, agencies and boards, Republicans on Wednesday signaled their opposition to Obama’s plan for filling vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Wednesday from law professor and former senior Justice Department official Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, one of three Obama nominees to the D.C. Circuit, often viewed as the second most influential court in the country after the Supreme Court.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the committee, said Pillard’s nomination wasn’t necessary because the D.C. Circuit doesn’t have enough work to justify filling its three vacancies.
“An objective review of the caseloads reveals that the D.C. Circuit is very low,” Grassley said. “And it raises serious doubts regarding whether we need more than eight active judges on that court. There is no question in my mind that the statistics make clear that the D.C. Circuit does not need any additional judges.”
Grassley said he recently sent letters to members of the D.C. Circuit asking about their workload and was surprised when one judge told him if there were more appointments, “there wouldn’t be enough work to go around.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Republican objections are misleading and politically motivated. He said GOP senators were coming with arguments for denying confirmation for Obama’s appeals court nominees that they didn’t raise when former Republican President George W. Bush’s appellate nominations were at stake.
“I would hope that President Obama is not going to be held to a different standard as if, somehow, he’s different than President Bush,” Leahy said.
Obama announced Pillard’s nomination in a Rose Garden ceremony last month along with nominations for Patricia Millett and U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit appellate court. “There’s no reason, aside from politics, for Republicans to block these individuals from getting an up-or-down vote,” he said at the time.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet again on Thursday morning and may vote on whether to send the nomination of Millet for a full Senate vote. At a hearing earlier this month, Republicans voiced similar concerns about the court’s workload.
The D.C. Circuit has 11 judgeships authorized by Congress. Republicans have proposed moving two of the vacant seats to other circuits with larger caseloads and eliminating the third seat altogether.