Obama Moves to Nominate 2 Women and Black Man to DC Appeals Court

Under frequent criticism since his first election for failing to fill vacancies in the federal government and the judiciary, President Obama answered back his critics by simultaneously submitting three names for the influential U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit, boldly daring his Republican rivals to block the nominations.

The president held a formal White House ceremony in the Rose Garden to announce the nominations, the first time he has taken that step for a judgeship nominee below the Supreme Court.

The three people he submitted to fill vacancies on the D.C. court are Cornelia T.L. Pillard, a law professor; Patricia Ann Millett, an appellate lawyer; and Robert L. Wilkins, a federal district judge.

In his remarks, Obama appealed to Republicans, who oppose virtually every Obama nominee for every post, to abandon what he called partisan obstruction of his judicial nominees and approve them quickly.

“This is not about principled opposition. It’s about partisan obstruction,” Obama said. “What’s happening now is unprecedented. For the good of the American people it has to stop.”

“What I’m doing today is my job,” the president said. “What I need is the Senate to do its job.”

By making the nominations so publicly, the president is hoping to get the public on his side in expressing displeasure with the Republican tactic of using the filibuster to block his choices for the cabinet and the courts.

Even before the formal announcement, Republicans began lining up their opposition to what they called the president’s effort to “pack” the appeals court with judges who would adhere to the president’s ideology—which traditionally had been seen as the prerogative of the duly elected president but in recent times has been used as a reason to oppose presidential nominees.

“It’s 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,” Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said on Monday night—illogically arguing that since there are so many vacancies across the country, the president should be criticized for acting to fill more than one vacancy at the same time.

But what the Republicans are really angry at is the president’s attempt to outmaneuver them as they try to push a Senate plan that would reduce the size of the appeals court in Washington by shifting two of its judges to circuit courts in other parts of the country and eliminating a third seat altogether. Republicans argue that other circuits are overworked and in need of additional judges, but Democrats angrily accuse the Republicans of mounting an elaborate effort to prevent the president from putting his stamp on the judiciary—something each of his predecessors has had a chance to do.

A White House official pointed out to the New York Times on Monday night that Republicans supported George Bush’s efforts to fill vacancies on the appeals court when he was president.

“All of these seats were filled under the previous administration,” the official said.

Nan Aron, the president of Alliance for Justice, praised the president’s picks for the circuit court and urged senators to approve them quickly.

“There is no excuse for delay,” Aron said in a statement. “The D.C. Circuit decides cases that affect every aspect of all Americans’ lives, from the air we breathe to workplace safety to the health of our families to the ability to regulate financial institutions. This court needs to be at full strength.”

In addition, Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the nominees — two women and an African-American man — would bring much needed diversity to the court.

“The president’s action today is a significant step in that process,” she said.

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