The D.C. Circuit leans conservative and is often considered the second most powerful federal court, one notch below the Supreme Court. It has decided cases about the limits of executive power and has limited the Obama administration's regulatory authority on issues ranging from cigarette warning labels to consumer and environmental protections.
Obama's decision to simultaneously select three nominees sets up a new battle with Republicans just as Democratic leaders are excoriating GOP obstruction and flirting with invoking the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster for nominees with a bare majority.
The three picks dovetail with three pending executive branch nominations that Republicans also oppose, for the Environmental Protection Agency (Gina McCarthy), Department of Labor (Tom Perez) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Richard Cordray).
With the simultaneous nominations, Obama is effectively daring Republicans to filibuster them all and risk being seen as abusing the tool for ideological reasons.
"I'm glad Republicans chose not to play politics and obstruct Sri [Srinivasan's] nomination the way they did with Caitlin [Halligan]," he said. "I'm hopeful we can now build on that progress."
A complicating factor: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has made clear that as fed-up as he is with Republican obstruction, he doesn't want a filibuster dispute to get in the way of immigration reform. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has offered some minor concessions in response to Reid's threats, and recently accused the Democratic leader of a "power grab" and of disrespecting the voice of the minority.
Meanwhile, after two failed attempts in recent years, the chief liberal proponents of filibuster reform are gearing up for their third bite at the apple. Larry Cohen, the president of Communications Workers of America union, a leader of the pro-reform Fix The Senate Now Coalition, held a conference call with reporters Monday to demand Democrats follow through and end the minority's ability to block up-or-down votes on nominees.
"I think we have to stop making excuses how terrible Republicans are. Democrats need to step up and be the majority party that they are," Cohen said. "Call it nuclear, call it whatever you want, but it's in the Constitution. It is clear."
It's unclear how much influence CWA and the coalition have over Democrats. Cohen said liberals are well aware it could backfire when Republicans return to power but "that's what democracy looks like. That's what kids expect in a fifth grade civics class."