Senators voted against ending debate on one of President Barack Obama’s controversial judicial nominees Thursday.
Obama nominated Supreme Court heavyweight litigator Patricia Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, regarded as the most powerful and prestigious of the nation’s thirteen federal appellate courts.
Senate Major Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed a motion to invoke cloture on Millet’s nomination to proceed to a final vote. The Senate voted 55-38 for cloture, but a motion to proceed takes 60 votes out of 100 senators to end debate and continue to the final vote, where 51 votes is sufficient to pass.
It was largely a party-line vote. Three Republican senators voted present: Orrin Hatch (UT), Saxby Chambliss (GA), and Johnny Isakson (GA). Several Democratic senators were absent, leaving the remainder unable to reach 60 votes.
Nominations to the D.C. Circuit have become increasingly controversial. It is often the farm team for Supreme Court nominations. A newer concern is that Sens. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer have openly pledged to pack the court with liberal judges, because many challenges to federal agencies and officers go on appeal to the D.C. Circuit–and few later continue to the Supreme Court–so these Democrats have spoken of the need to build a liberal majority on that court to ensure support for Obama’s far-reaching executive actions during his second term when the D.C. Circuit has the final word.
President Obama has already had one appointment confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, Judge Sri Srinivasan. Millet is one of three controversial new nominees. There is also an element of payback in this story, in that Democrats broke with tradition with their unprecedented obstruction of President George W. Bush’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit, which then-Sen. Obama was part of during Bush’s second term. These tactics defeated two well-qualified nominees to that court, Miguel Estrada and Peter Keisler.
Had Bush’s nominees been held to the traditional standards, Obama would not have four vacancies to try to fill during his second term.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News and a fellow with the American Civil Rights Union. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.