President Barack Obama on Tuesday indignantly accused Senate Republicans of "cynically" blocking his judicial nominees for political gain as he announced his picks to fill three vacancies on what he dubbed "the second-highest court in the country." Obama, by turns , pressed the Senate to act quickly on his picks for the hugely influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
"These are no slouches. These are no hacks. These are incredibly accomplished lawyers," Obama declared in the Rose Garden of the White House.
He was joined by the three nomineesCornelia Pillard, Robert Leon Wilkins and Patricia Ann Millettwho will need Senate confirmation to take their seats. Pillard teaches law at Georgetown University. Wilkins is a district court judge in Washington, D.C. Millet is an appeals layer in Washington, D.C.
The court in question is often described as the second-most influential in the land (after, of course, the Supreme Court), because it frequently takes up issues of profound national scopeincluding challenges to government regulation and national security cases. And because the Supreme Court does not take up that many lower-court rulings, the D.C. circuit court frequently has the last word on those issues. It's also seen as a proving ground for potential future Supreme Court justices.
Obama also roundly mocked improbable Republican charges that a president nominating judges to fill vacancies on a federal court amounts to an abuse of executive power"court-packing."
"For those of you who [aren't] familiar with the history of court-packing, that involved Franklin Delano Roosevelt trying to add additional seats to the Supreme Court in order to ... get more support for his political agenda," Obama said. "We're not adding seats here. We're trying to fill seats that are already existing."
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, had charged that Obamas announcement reflects a desire to stack the deck in favor of his policies.
Its hard to imagine the rationale for nominating three judges at once for this court given the many vacant emergency seats across the country, unless your goal is to pack the court to advance a certain policy agenda, .
Some Republicans including Grassley have said the court doesn't have enough work to justify the number of judges that hear cases.
Obama's newly aggressive move on judicial nominees could also have far-reaching effects inside the Senate itself, where Democrats have expressed increasing frustration with parliamentary delaying tactics like the filibuster. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has reportedly said a step sometimes dubbed "the nuclear option" because it would likely trigger all-out partisan warfare.