In a Rose Garden announcement, President Obama nominated three qualified candidates to fill vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which is often considered the second most powerful court in the country. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins, appellate attorney Patricia Ann Millett and Georgetown University Law Professor Nina Pillard have all received the highest rating from the American Bar Association and will bring needed diversity and a wealth of experience to the D.C. Circuit. These nominations should be uncontroversial, but that is not reality in the U.S. Senate.
Three of the D.C. Circuit's eleven judgeships are vacant, including one that has been open since its previous occupant, John Roberts, was confirmed Chief Justice of the United States in 2005. After filibustering President Obama's first nominee to the court, the Senate finally confirmed the president's second nominee, former Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan, last month. Democrats and Republicans share blame for vacancies on this court that have been open since 2005. But with the D.C. Circuit still three judges short of its allotted size, cases waiting for decision are piling up and it is time for the obstruction to end.
The president fulfills a constitutional duty when he nominates candidates to the federal courts. In the past, filibusters of judicial nominations required "extraordinary circumstances," but even before President Obama named these three nominees to fill three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, some Senate Republicans indicated they would obstruct for obstruction's sake.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley went so far as to introduce legislation that would reduce the number of seats on the D.C. Circuit from 11 to eight, just so President Obama would not be able to appoint judges to the court. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts, a nonpartisan agency that answers to the Chief Justice, recommended that the D.C. Circuit keep eleven full-time judges deciding cases. Neither Senator Grassley, nor his Republican colleagues, questioned the caseload or "need" for filling judicial vacancies in the 8th Circuit Court last month (with a nominee from Grassley's home state) or the 10th Circuit Court earlier this year.
Although the D.C. Circuit Court is physically located in Washington, D.C., it rules on issues that impact Colorado and the entire country. For example, it has sole responsibility for deciding cases having to do with the balance of powers of the branches of government and decisions made by government agencies affecting issues like health care, national security, environmental rules, and consumer protections and workplace safety. More U.S. Supreme Court justices have come from the D.C. Circuit than any other circuit court, including four current Justices.
Colorado has fortunately avoided the long-term vacancies and political posturing that have plagued other states -- earlier this year the Senate confirmed former federal Public Defender Raymond Moore to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. However, we are still affected by the stalemate over the D.C. Circuit. Perhaps Colorado's tradition of cooperation on federal nominations can serve as a model for the rest of the country to follow. Each of the President's nominations deserves a committee hearing and a yes-or-no Senate floor vote.
Peg Perl is Staff Counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) watchdog group that holds public officials and organizations legally accountable for unethical activities that undermine the integrity of government in Colorado. www.coloradoforethics.org