The Senate on Tuesday evening blocked Georgetown law professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, further solidifying the stalemate over President Obama's picks for the key federal appeals court.
Senate Republicans, who argue the D.C. Circuit does not need any more judges, thwarted Pillard's nomination, which needed 60 votes needed to overcome a block and advance to a confirmation vote. The vote was 56-41, with one Senator voting present.
Pillard was the second D.C. Circuit nominee blocked in the past several weeks. Republicans on Oct. 31 prevented the nomination of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partner Patricia Millett from moving forward to a full vote.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the vote that the Obama administration is trying to tilt the balance of the court that is now split evenly between four Republican-appointed judges and four appointed by Democrats. The appeals court issues rulings with a national sweep on environmental, labor, communications, securities and other regulatory arenas.
"Rather than work with us to schedule votes on these nominations in an orderly manner, as we have been doing all year, the majority prefers to concoct a crisis on the D.C. Circuit so it can try to distract the American people from the failings of Obamacare," McConnell said Tuesday.
Democrats called a press conference after the vote, where they said Republicans had crossed the line. Rules about filibusters needed to be changed to allow up-or-down votes for the nominees, Senate Democrats said. They said they expect a third D.C. Circuit nominee, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins in Washington, to be blocked.
Democrats focused on how Republicans have blocked three women nominees to the court. First, Caitlin Halligan, who withdrew her name earlier this year amid Republican criticism. Millett and Pillard followed. Democrats said there were no "extraordinary circumstances" to justify blocking Pillard's nomination.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said blocking nominees for political reasons would destroy the integrity of the federal courts, and the filibusters of the D.C. Circuit nominees is a "horrible reflection on what we should be as a nation."