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GOP Escalates Nuclear Showdown By Filibustering Another Top Obama Judge

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AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta

"All I can say is this -- be careful what you wish for," he said Tuesday. "If the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead. There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we'd love to put on the bench."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) emphasized Pillard's qualifications as a Georgetown law professor who has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court. He stressed that it's the third female nominee -- including Millett and Caitlin Halligan -- that the GOP has filibustered to the D.C. Circuit court for "nakedly partisan reasons."

"Republicans claim the court doesn't need 11 judges," Reid said. "But that's not what they said when President Bush filled several vacant seats on the court. When George W. Bush was President, Senate Republicans happily filled the 9th, 10th and 11th seats on the D.C. Circuit -- the same three seats President Obama seeks to fill today -- even though the court had a smaller caseload at the time."

The D.C. Circuit court leans conservative and looms large in Obama's second terms as it often has the final word on major executive actions including health care, climate change and labor regulations. It recently overturned the mandate under Obamacare for insurance plans to cover birth control. Republicans have argued that none of the three vacancies on the court ought to be filled because its caseload is too light, to which Democrats have responded that the cases it takes are unusually complex.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the effort to fill the judicial vacancies on the D.C. Circuit "a political exercise designed to distract the American people from the mess that is Obamacare, rather than try to fix it."

The GOP's refusal to let up on the mass blockade leaves Democrats with few options. They can confirm the judges by scrapping the filibuster with 50 votes; they can cut a deal to reduce the size of the court and perhaps confirm one or two nominees, or they can back down.

Norm Ornstein, a congressional expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told TPM that the GOP's mass filibuster of D.C. Circuit nominees is unprecedented and an attempt at "nullification." If Republicans don't let up, he said, then "then I don't see much other choice" for Democrats other than to go nuclear.

"In previous cases it was the minority party filibustering nominees they judged were not mainstream," Ornstein said. "There's no case even being made that these nominees aren't qualified. We've never seen that before. ... I just think it's ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous."

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

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