WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama plans to nominate three judges to a critical federal court in a move that The New York Times says "will effectively be daring Republicans to find specific ground to filibuster all the nominees."
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is considered nearly as powerful as the Supreme Court and is known as a proving ground for potential high-court nominees. The three vacancies are part of a staffing crisis that has plagued the judiciary, as Obama's nominees have been bottled up in the Senate by GOP obstruction. And while he has had to wait longer than past presidents to have judges approved, he has also nominated them at a slower pace.
A Senate Democratic aide said that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been pressing the president to make such a move to raise the pressure on Republicans. "That is what Reid has been pressing for and why we cleared Sri last week," the aide said, referring Sri Srinivasan, who was recently approved for the Court, reducing the gap from four to three. He was approved 97-0 once Republicans dropped procedural objections.
A major reason Obama has tapped fewer judges, HuffPost's Jen Bendery recently reported, has to do with Senate tradition, which requires home state senators to put forward a slate of acceptable nominees from which the president chooses. But GOP senators have declined to put forward a slate. In some cases, they have then subsequently complained about the slow pace of nominations.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) recently slammed the idea that Obama would fill all the D.C. court vacancies as "packing the court," but was quickly corrected by a colleague, who noted that the term refers to an attempt to increase the number of judges on a panel in order to tip the balance, not to fill existing vacancies.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a similar charge. "The whole purpose here is to stack the court," he said on the Senate floor during debate over obstruction and Srinivasan's nomination. "The real issue here is I guess [Reid] disagrees with the rulings on the D.C. Circuit."
Obama's move coincides with Reid's increased attention on Senate rules related to nominations. All indications are that there will be a showdown in July that could result in Democrats implementing the so-called "nuclear option," which would eliminate the ability to filibuster nominations.