In announcing the vote today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed resigned that Republicans would block Pillard's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Reid called her "the next victim" of Republican obstruction.
Republicans have said for months they oppose confirming any more nominees to the D.C. Circuit, often considered the second most important in the nation because its rulings have a national sweep on environmental, labor, communications, securities and other regulatory issues.
"Georgetown law professor Nina Pillard, is the next up, the next victim of what the Republicans are doing here," Reid said on the Senate floor today. "She is qualified and dedicated, so it's truly a shame that Republicans would filibuster this nomination for unrelated political reasons."
Reid announced he would file cloture on Pillard's nomination today, meaning that 60 senators will have to vote to overcome a Republican block. If the Democrats succeed, Pillard will get an up-or-down confirmation vote, which requires only a majority.
Republicans last week thwarted the nomination of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld Patricia Millett, whose qualifications for the bench were unquestioned in the Senate. Millett's nomination isn't out yet, though. But she can't get a full confirmation vote unless several Republicans change their minds and allow it.
The Millett vote cast doubt on the ability of President Obama to fill any of the three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. Pillard is considered the most controversial of the Obama's three nominations to the court. Republicans earlier expressed concern about her academic writings on topics such as abortion, abstinence-only education and constitutional rights of churches and doctors.
The third nominee, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 31. Wilkins, a former Venable partner, awaits a vote on the Senate floor.
Reid also took to Twitter today to make the case for Pillard. He pointed to the earlier Republican block of Caitlin Halligan, whose nomination for the D.C. Circuit was withdrawn in March after more than two years of Republican-led opposition.
"Nina Pillard is very qualified to sit on DC Circuit. I hope Rs won't filibuster her as they did Caitlin Halligan and Patricia Millett," he tweeted.
Obama has only placed one judge on the D.C. Circuit in nearly five years in the White House. In May, the Senate unanimously confirmed Sri Srinivasan, making him the first new judge on that court since 2006.
On Tuesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) took to the Senate floor to support Pillard's nomination.
"Nina Pillard brings to this nomination not only brilliance in an academic sense but a variety of experiences and a record of thoughtful engagement with diverse views and a dedication to excellence and to public service," Blumenthal said. "She has spent time in the classroom as well as the courtroom, and she is a civil rights hero as well as a public servant and an expert on the judicial system."
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced a bill that would strip the D.C. Circuit of its three vacant judgeships. The Republican members of the judiciary committee support the measure.
Several Republicans say the eight D.C. Circuit judges—split evenly between Democrat and Republican appointees if you don't count senior judges—can handle the current caseload.