More than 90 groups urge Senate to allow yes-or-no votes on D.C. Circuit nominees

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- A coalition of more than 90 groups this week urged senators to hold yes-or-no votes on whether to confirm U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit nominees Patricia Millett, Cornelia "Nina" Pillard and Robert Wilkins.



The 97 organizations, which represent a "diverse array of groups deeply committed to the proper functioning of the federal court system," sent letters to all members of the Senate Wednesday, pushing for the votes.


Some of the groups include Alliance for Justice, AFL-CIO, Association of Flight Attendants, American Federation of Teachers, Justice at Stake, NAACP, National Bar Association, Sierra Club and People For the American Way, among others.


The groups noted the court's "unique importance."


"Many statutes require the D.C.Circuit to be the exclusive court to consider appeals of federal agency regulations and decisions affecting the entire country," they wrote. "Moreover, even when parties appealing agency decisions, congressional statutes or presidential actions have a choice of venues, they often choose to have their cases heard by the D.C.Circuit, due to its expertise in complex administrative matters.


"And since the Supreme Court hears only a few dozen cases a year, the decisions of the D.C.Circuit are almost always the last word."


The groups said they are concerned some senators may seek to block yes-or-no confirmation votes for one or more of the three nominees, "based on unsupported claims" that the court's caseload does not warrant filling all 11 seats.



"In fact, the court has many more pending cases now than it did when the Senate confirmed George W. Bush nominees Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas Griffith to the 10th and 11th seats in 2005: According to the Administrative Office of United States Court, the D.C.Circuit had 1,456 pending cases as of March 31, 2013, as opposed to only 1,313 pending cases in May of 2005 when Brown and Griffith were confirmed," they noted.


"Moreover, the court's caseload is even heavier than those numbers suggest. Because of its unique jurisdiction, the typical proceeding before the D.C.Circuit is far more complex than a typical proceeding before any of the other circuit courts."


The groups contend the court hears some of the most time-consuming disputes over regulations with the greatest impact on most Americans' lives, including clean air and water regulations, nuclear plant safety, health-care reform issues and insider trading.


"These cases can require thousands of hours of preparation by the judges, often consuming days of argument, involving hundreds of parties and interveners, and necessitating dozens of briefs and thousands of pages of record -- all of which culminates in lengthy, technically intricate legal opinions," they wrote.


Because of this, the groups said they would be "deeply concerned" over efforts to obstruct votes to fill the three vacancies on the court.


"Our courts deserve better. And so do the American people," they wrote, noting that all three nominees -- simultaneously selected by President Barack Obama in June -- are "extremely qualified."



"Whether you support or oppose Millett, Pillard and Wilkins, please allow the American people to see you and your Senate colleagues express that position in a yes-or-no confirmation vote for all three nominees."


The groups' letter came a day ahead of Millett's judiciary committee vote, which is set for Thursday.


Millett's hearing, held earlier this month, went fairly smoothly by all accounts.


According to reports, there was no criticism of Millett herself -- even Republicans noted she had strong credentials -- only of the D.C. Circuit and Obama's plan to "pack" the court.


Meanwhile, Pillard's hearing, held just last week, did not go as well.


GOP senators reportedly grilled the nominee, taking aim at her academic writings because of her lack of judicial experience.


Wilkins still awaits a hearing.


From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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