Georgetown Law professor denied seat on D.C. Circuit Court
Another week, another GOP filibuster of an Obama nominee. This time though, the obstruction hits closer to the Hilltop.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Georgetown Law professor Cornelia “Nina” T. L. Pillard, who was tapped by the administration for a seat on the powerful U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Senate Democrats fell four short of the 60-vote minimum to close argument. The count was 56 to 41 following party lines.
Republicans are troubled by what they deem as Pillard’s liberal judicial philosophy, especially relating to social issues like abortion. The D.C. Circuit Court is widely considered the second most powerful judicial body in the country, and Republicans have made a habit of refusing to fill vacancies on the bench. As it stands, three seats of the 11 on the Court remain vacant, leaving conservative judges in control. That balance would change, however, if Pillard and the president’s other two nominees were confirmed by the Senate.
Cognizant of this, the GOP has refused to approve any of Obama’s nominees, saying the Court’s caseload is not heavy enough to justify filling the vacancies. Many court-watchers have pointed out that while there may be fewer cases, they are highly complex and demand more time, but Republicans have relented. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has even introduced a bill to reduce the number of judges on the Court from 11 to eight, and has repeatedly called the president’s attempt to fill the seats “court packing.”
Pillard is nothing if not a sterling nominee in the traditional sense. Supporters say her intellectual acumen is unrivaled, having graduated magna cum laude from Yale College and Harvard Law School. She is especially well-versed in high court cases, having briefed more than 25 cases in the Supreme Court and argued nine before it. According to a Georgetown Law article from June, Pillard has also litigated cases in federal courts of appeals and trial courts all over the country.
All this gave many legal professionals hope that Pillard’s character could overcome partisan squabbling. As Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor said, “Nina will be an extraordinary judge. She has a superb background as a government official and a Supreme Court advocate … Her great judgment and experience, her deep knowledge of the law, and her commitment to the rule of law and to justice are a rare combination and the perfect qualifications for an appellate judge.”
The failure of Pillard’s nomination has left many Democrats fuming once again. “There reaches a point where we can’t allow this type of injustice to occur,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). “It’s not fair to these nominees to be given the back of the hand by a Republican filibuster on the floor of the United States Senate.”
Desperate for change, Democrats have toyed with the idea of changing Senate rules, especially with dropping the 60 vote minimum required for cloture in nomination discussions. While Republican Grassley rejected the notion that gender played any role in opposition to the nominees, Democrats point out that two of and three of the filibustered nominees for the District of Columbia appeals court over the last year were women.
Photo from Georgetown Law