No More Mr. Nice Guy: Obama Squeezes Senate Republicans On The Filibuster

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The White House intends to send three new nominees to the Senate to fill judicial vacancies on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, a Democratic source familiar with President Obama’s plans confirmed to TPM on Tuesday.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the nominations could come this week or in the next few weeks. The source declined to address speculation about who the President might select, cautioning that those decisions have not been made yet. The White House’s aim appears to be to pick relatively non-controversial nominees so Republicans would look bad if they tried to block the confirmations.

The news of pending nominations was first reported Monday by the New York Times.

The move, along with three pending cabinet nominees also opposed by Senate Republicans, carries far-reaching implications for the President’s agenda and is likely to fuel a high-profile battle between leaders of the two parties over filibuster rules.The upcoming nominations will capitalize on the Senate’s unanimous vote to confirm Sri Srinivasan last week, the first nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit court since 2006.

The court leans conservative and is often considered the second most powerful in the country. It regularly rules on the parameters of executive power and will have important sway over key elements of President Obama’s second-term agenda, particularly with regard to setting and implementing environmental, labor and consumer protection regulations.

“You have a majority in [the D.C. Circuit] court that is wreaking havoc on the country,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said during the debate over Srinivasan and the filibuster. “For the first time in 230 years, they rule the president can’t make a recess appointment. So, yes, there is a crisis, and we need to do something about it.”

Republicans have telegraphed a mass blockade of the remaining three seats on the D.C. Circuit, introducing legislation to reduce the number of active judges on the court from 11 to eight, which Democratic leaders have scoffed at and dismissed out of hand.

“The whole purpose here is to stack the court,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last week, reacting to Reid’s comments. “It sounds to me like the majority leader has finally kind of confessed up to what the real problem is. … He doesn’t like what the D.C. Circuit is doing.”

Republicans argue that eight D.C. Circuit judges can handle the workload, to which Democrats say the number of cases don’t reflect the complexity of the work they have to do. While the two sides squabble over whether the remaining three seats are necessary, Democrats note that Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who wrote the bill to shrink the D.C. Circuit court, voted to confirm the 10th and 11th active judges (Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas Griffith) to the bench under President Bush.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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