Jessica M. Karmasek Dec. 10, 2013, 4:15pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- Patricia Millett, one of President Barack Obama's nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Tuesday morning.

Senators voted 56-38 to approve Millett's nomination, according to the roll call.

Millett currently heads Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP's Supreme Court practice and co-heads the firm's national appellate practice. She was nominated to the D.C. Circuit -- considered the second most powerful court in the nation -- by the President in June, along with Cornelia "Nina" Pillard and Robert Leon Wilkins.

GOP senators blocked Millett's nomination in October. In November, they also held up Pillard and Wilkins' nominations, arguing the D.C. Circuit doesn't need more than its current eight judges.

The Senate changed its rules last month in response to Republicans' obstruction.

Under the rules change, a simple majority of senators, or 51 votes, ends debate on executive branch nominees and nominees to federal district and appeals courts.

Before the change, a 60-vote majority was needed for the approval of presidential nominees.

However, the rules change will not apply to U.S. Supreme Court nominees or to legislation. Both are still subject to the 60-vote filibuster rule.

Typically, 67 votes are needed to change Senate rules; however, Democrats decided to employ the "nuclear option" and changed the rules with a simple majority vote.

Special interest groups, who have pushed for the nominees' confirmation, applauded the vote Tuesday for Millett.

"We are pleased that, thanks to the courageous senators who stood up to obstruction and changed the rules, the Senate finally was able to do its constitutional duty and vote on the nomination of Patricia Millett," Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said in a statement soon after Millett's confirmation.

But Aron said it's only the beginning.

"We need to fill every empty seat on the D.C. Circuit," she said. "That means the Senate must also swiftly confirm Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins. Today's vote is one-third of a job well-done."

Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way, agreed.

"Finally, we are seeing progress in filling the three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit," she said.

"The Republican opposition to these nominees has not been about their merits, but simply about keeping the President from filling these seats with any nominees."

Baker continued, "Millett will fill a seat that has been vacant since Chief Justice John Roberts was elevated to the Supreme Court in 2005. It's about time this blockade was broken."

Obama said he, too, is pleased with Millett's confirmation.

"Ms. Millett is a leading appellate lawyer who has made 32 arguments before the Supreme Court, the second-most by a female advocate," the President said in a statement. "She has served in the Department of Justice for both Democratic and Republican Presidents. I'm confident she will serve with distinction on the federal bench."

Democrats are looking to push through Pillard and Wilkins' nominations before the week is out, in addition to the nomination of U.S. Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Authority.

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