On Tuesday, President Obama nominated three judges to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. These nominations raise the stakes for another high-profile battle over nominations in the Senate. The nominees are attorney Patricia Ann Millett, Georgetown law professor Cornelia Pillard, and U.S. District Court Judge Robert Leon Wilkins.
Obama's move is unusual because while presidents usually hold public announcements with Supreme Court judge nominees, it is rare to see the president in a joint appearance with lower court nominees. This move signals Obama's focus on pushing the Senate to move forward with his nominations, many of which have been unduly delayed. In his public statement, Obama stated that Republican hesitance to confirm his judicial nominees is "not about principled opposition" but "political obstruction". Obama continued his pointed statements at the Senate in saying "What I am doing today is my job. I need the Senate to do its job."
Throughout his second term, Obama has been fighting an uphill battle against Senate Republicans in the confirmation of his nominees to the court and executive branch offices. Obama's first nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court, Catilin Halligan, waited two and a half year before withdrawing her nomination in March after Republicans blocked her confirmation vote. Sri Srinivasan, Obama's second nominee, won confirmation on May 23 only because of her bipartisan credentials, having argued appeals for both George W. Bush and the Obama administration. In the executive branch, Senate Republicans have also been delaying the confirmation votes on Gina McCarthy, nominee for the director of the EPA, Tom Perez, nominee for Secretary of Labor, and Richard Cordray, nominee for the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If this all was not enough, the Obama administration is still dealing with the fallout from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Obama's recess appointment of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board as unconstitutional.
Even in light of Obama's more aggressive stance on confirming his nominees, Senate Republicans are poised to block these three nominations. Republicans have suggested that these nominations reprise President Franklin Roosevelt's "court-packing" effort to make the Supreme Court accept his New Deal policies. For Republicans, Obama's nominations are an attempt to water down the conservative-leaning D.C. District Court. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has even introduced legislation to reduce the seats on the D.C. District Court of Appeals from 11 to 8. This legislation is a non-starter for Democrats but indicates that there will be a tough fight ahead for Obama to confirm his new nominees.