President Obama on Tuesday unveiled three nominees to the federal appeals court in Washington, igniting a battle with Republicans over the future of the nation’s second-most important court.
Obama announced the judicial candidates at a Rose Garden ceremony usually reserved for Supreme Court nominees, underscoring his intention to challenge congressional Republicans who have routinely blocked his picks.
Obama nominated Georgetown University law professor Cornelia Pillard, appeals attorney Patricia Ann Millett and U.S. District Court Judge Robert Leon Wilkins to fill three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
“My judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor,” a frustrated Obama said. “What’s happening now is unprecedented. “For the good of the American people, it has to stop.”
With the power to review federal agencies, the appelate court to which Obama wants to add his own judges has significant say over the most contentious elements of the president's agenda when they're challenged legally. The appelate court is also considered a pathway to the Supreme Court. Three Supreme Court justices were elevated from the D.C. appelate court.
Obama scoffed at GOP charges that he was packing the court, a practice that originated when President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to add more seats to the Supreme Court to ensure a majority backed his agenda.
“We’re not adding seats here,” Obama said to laughter in the friendly crowd. “We’re trying to fill seats that are already existing.”
However, Republicans counter that the D.C. court does not need 11 judges, noting the heavier case loads in circuits such as New York and Atlanta.
Obama is banking that Republicans won’t simultaneously block all three of his nominees, potentially cementing the White House claim that the GOP is engaging in an unprecedented level of obstructionism.
Earlier this year, Caitlin Halligan, Obama’s nominee to the federal appeals court, withdrew her name from consideration after waiting more than two and a half years to be confirmed. Sri Srinivasan, who worked in President George W. Bush’s administration, won confirmation to that seat in late May.
In choosing to showcase his nominees with a White House ceremony — something traditionally reserved for Supreme Court choices — the president was hoping to mount pressure on Republicans to give his picks an up-or-down vote.
“The Constitution demands that I nominate qualified individuals to fill those seats,” Obama said. “What I’m doing today is my job. I need the Senate to do its job."