The Senate confirmed Georgetown University Law Center professor Cornelia "Nina" Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit early this morning, amid escalating political bickering over a rules change that allowed for the vote.
The 51-44 vote finished at about 1:15 a.m., an unusually late cap to a day when Republicans took to the Senate floor to speak against Pillard's nomination to the D.C. Circuit. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), early on Wednesday called Pillard "a liberal ideologue" who will "rubber stamp" President Barack Obama's legislative and regulatory proposals.
When Republicans then forced the Democrats to use all the time required under Senate rules to get to decide on Pillard, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduled Thursday's early morning vote. Reid also threatened to keep the Senate in session through the holidays to get through other confirmation votes, including another D.C. Circuit nominee and pending federal district nominees.
No Republicans voted for Pillard. Three Democrats—Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)—voted against her. Five senators did not vote, including Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
"The outcome of her vote is a foregone conclusion. So when people around here complain that they aren't home with their families at Christmas time, here is the reason: Republicans' obstruction," Reid said on the Senate floor. "It's hard to imagine a more pointless exercise than spending hour after hour after hour waiting for a vote whose outcome we already know."
Senate Republicans, who argue the D.C. Circuit does not need any more judges, initially thwarted the nomination of Pillard and two other D.C. Circuit nominees. That prompted Democrats to change the Senate's filibuster rules, stripping the minority party's right to block almost all judicial nominations and allowing Pillard's vote. This week, the Senate confirmed Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partner Patricia Millett to an open seat on the D.C. Circuit.
Democrats, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, touted Pillard as an accomplished litigator who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court nine times and filed briefs in more than 25 Supreme Court cases. Pillard teaches constitutional law and civil procedure at Georgetown University Law Center and co-directs the law school's Supreme Court Institute.
Pillard's confirmation vote adds the second judge this week to the D.C. Circuit, whose regulatory decisions often carry national sweep. Her confirmation moved ahead just hours after the Senate approved Millett.
President Barack Obama has placed one other lawyer on the D.C. Circuit—former O'Melveny & Myers partner Sri Srinivasan, who recently served as a top lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice's solicitor general's office. A vote for the other pending nominee—U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins in Washington—has not been set.
"Throughout her career, Ms. Pillard has displayed an unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said in a statement Thursday morning. "Her landmark accomplishments on behalf of women and families include Supreme Court cases defending the constitutionality of the Family and Medical Leave Act and opening the doors of the Virginia Military Institute to female students."
William Treanor, dean of Georgetown law, said in a statement: "Nina's superb record as a leading Supreme Court advocate and legal scholar speaks for itself—she will make a remarkable appellate judge."