The Senate voted 51-44 early Thursday morning, around 1 a.m., to confirm Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after Republicans, angry about filibuster reform, forced an all-night session and pushed the vote at the last possible moment.
Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV), Mark Pryor (AR) and Joe Donnelly (IN) voted with Republicans against the confirmation.
Pillard, a law professor at Georgetown, became a judge after Patricia Millett was confirmed earlier this week to the powerful court, which looms large in President Barack Obama’s second term. The two were confirmed as a result of to Democrats’ decision to trigger the nuclear option and eliminate the 60-vote threshold for presidential nominees other than the Supreme Court.
“I thank the Senate for confirming Nina Pillard to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which for the first time, will have five active female judges on the bench,” Obama said in a statement. “Throughout her career, Ms. Pillard has displayed an unwavering commitment to justice and integrity. Her landmark accomplishments on behalf of women and families include Supreme Court cases defending the constitutionality of the Family and Medical Leave Act and opening the doors of the Virginia Military Institute to female students. I’m confident she will be a diligent, thoughtful and judicious addition to the D.C. Circuit.”
Pillard’s work on gender equality has drawn comparisons to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, who was a D.C. Circuit judge before becoming a justice.
On Wednesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tore into Pillard as a “liberal ideologue” who “doesn’t deserve” a lifetime-tenured position on the influential court, which hears cases on executive power.
“In short, Professor Pillard does not seem like a person with the mindset or temperament of a judge,” he said. “She seems like a person with the attitude and disposition of a left-wing academic, someone who seems to come to conclusions based on how well they support her own theories.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) praised the vote, stressing the presence of women on the court.
“Despite having filled nearly half of law school classrooms for the last 20 years, women are grossly underrepresented on our Federal courts. We need women on the Federal bench,” he said. “The Senate moved another step forward in that effort by voting to confirm Nina Pillard, one of several highly qualified women nominated by President Obama like Patricia Millett, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor. I am proud to support such incredible nominees, and I applaud the Senate for voting to confirm Nina Pillard.”