D.C. Court Nominations Highlight Need to Fix the Filibuster

A Republican threat to filibuster President Obama’s nominees for three vacancies on a critical, Washington, D.C.-based federal court invites reform-minded senators in both parties to finally fix the filibuster rule and put the Senate back to work, Common Cause said today.

“The President’s nominations of Patricia Ann Millett, Cornelia Pillard, and Robert Wilkins to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals should get a prompt hearing in the Judiciary Committee and – assuming all are found qualified – be moved to the floor for a vote,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s senior vice president for strategy and programs.

“And any attempt to block their confirmation through a filibuster should trigger a rules change that would allow them to be confirmed with a simple majority – 51 votes,” she added. “The country needs a Senate that works as our founders intended.”

All three seats on the D.C. Circuit have been vacant for years. Republicans have a legitimate complaint over the President’s long delay in submitting nominees, but that’s certainly not justification for use of the filibuster and its 60-vote requirement for action to leave the seats open even longer, Hobert Flynn said.

“The suggestion that President Obama is somehow attempting to ‘pack’ the court is ludicrous,” she added. “These are vacant seats for which the U.S. Judicial Conference, an apolitical body led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has certified a need and for which the President has now proposed nominees. Under the Constitution, the Senate has a duty to act.”

Common Cause is pursuing a lawsuit – now before the D.C. Circuit Court – challenging the constitutionality of the filibuster rule. Once invoked rarely, the rule has been used in recent years by the Senate’s minority party – whether Republican or Democratic – to impose a 60-vote threshold for action on even routine bills and nominations. The Constitution provides for such “super-majority” votes only in a handful of special circumstances, including the conviction of the President during an impeachment trial or the ratification of treaties.