The U.S. Senate confirmed Patricia Millett, along partisan lines, to be a judge on the extremely powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Conservatives are outraged, as this is the first confirmation since Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) unilaterally changed the fundamental rules of the Senate by abolishing the right to filibuster judicial nominees.
Breitbart News reported on the details last month when Sen. Reid invoked the “nuclear option,” reinterpreting Senate rules to forbid filibusters of most judicial nominees. Under Senate rules, it takes 60 votes to end debate and move to a final vote. Although changing Senate rules requires a two-thirds vote, by a simple majority vote (51) Reid adopted a new interpretation of existing rules.
Reid did this to force through President Barack Obama’s most controversial nominees. Obama has openly admitted that he is “remaking the courts” by installing new liberal federal judges who are expected to be more sympathetic to his agenda.
In particular, since there are no openings on the U.S. Supreme Court, Obama is focused on tilting the balance to the left on the D.C. Circuit, which is the most powerful court in America aside from the Supreme Court, largely because most challenges to federal agency actions and regulations (such as Obamacare regulations, EPA rules, and recess appointments) go through that court.
Millett was confirmed Tuesday on an almost-party-line vote, 56-38. Vulnerable Democrats like Mark Pryor (D-AK) voted for Millett, increasing the risk those senators face in the 2014 elections.
Republicans are furious, with Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) saying on the Senate floor that Obama is creating a “rubberstamp” for a left-wing agenda. Republicans are convening a closed-door meeting to debate how to respond to these unprecedented changes that marginalize the minority party in the Senate.
Reid then immediately moved on to a controversial executive-branch nominee who had been stalled–Mel Watts–for the federal housing authority. Reid is also expected to move soon on two more stalled nominees to the D.C. Circuit, Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins. If these are all confirmed, Democrat appointees to the D.C. Circuit will outnumber Republicans 7-4. Several of these seats would not be vacant if Democrats had not filibustered for years the nominees of George W. Bush.
When Obama was a senator he was an active part of blocking those Bush nominees from 2005 through 2008, giving him open judicial seats to fill as president. Now Reid and his allies have changed Senate rules so that Obama’s judicial nominees cannot be blocked in the same way.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.