The Senate tonight blocked the nomination of Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, meaning Republicans have thwarted all three of President Obama's nominees to the key federal appeals court.
As expected, the nomination of Wilkins failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. The Senate voted 53-38, meaning that the nomination cannot advance to an up-or-down confirmation vote, which requires only a majority.
Now the nomination of Wilkins, a judge on Washington's federal district court, joins two other D.C. Circuit nominations in the purgatory of the Senate’s confirmation process — still alive, but unable to get a vote. Republicans similarly blocked the nominations of Patricia Millett and Cornelia "Nina" Pillard in the past three weeks.
Republicans once again argued on the Senate floor that the workload of the D.C. Circuit did not warrant any more judges, and that adding more would be an unnecessary cost. The 11-member panel now has eight active judges.
The vote prompted a response from President Obama, who said he was "deeply disappointed" that the three nominees he sent to the Senate for confirmation are not getting the "yes-or-no votes they deserve."
"When it comes to judicial nominations, I am fulfilling my constitutional responsibility, but Congress is not," Obama said in a written statement. "Instead, Senate Republicans are standing in the way of a fully-functioning judiciary that serves the American people."
Obama said the D.C. Circuit's three vacancies were created by Congress, and Chief Justice John Roberts and the Judicial Conference of the United States believe that these vacancies should be filled, not removed.
Obama also said the obstruction "is completely unprecedented." President Bush had four of six nominees confirmed during his eight years in the White House, while Obama has only had one of his five nominees confirmed, he said.
Wilkins was not considered a controversial nominee, since the Senate had approved him for his current position. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) did not bother to go into his objections to Wilkins during a floor speech.
“I have some concerns with Judge Wilkins’ record, but I’m not going to focus on those concerns today,” Grassley said. Grassley then detailed again how each additional judges cost approximately $1 million per year, per judge.
Democrats have argued this is pretext for keeping President Obama from filling any of the seats on the influential court, which issues rulings of national importance about environmental, labor, communications, securities and other regulatory issues.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) repeated his earlier warning to Republicans that the blocks were generating momentum for Democrats to change the Senate’s longstanding rules about filibustering judicial nominations.
Monday night’s vote triggered criticism from liberal groups. American Constitution Society President Caroline Fredrickson called the Senate “utterly dysfunctional when it comes to judicial nominations.”
“This endless obstruction is making it more difficult for cases to be heard and justice to be served,” Fredrickson said in a written statement. “Especially when it comes to the D.C. Circuit, whose jurisdiction directly impacts the lives of all Americans.”