WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- Republican members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee reportedly grilled U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit nominee Cornelia "Nina" Pillard during a hearing Wednesday.

According to The BLT: Blog of Legal Times, GOP senators took aim at Pillard's academic writings because of her lack of judicial experience.

Pillard currently serves as a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Prior to that, she worked in the U.S. Justice Department as a deputy assistant attorney general, the Solicitor General's Office, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I have concerns about your nomination," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said. "The primary source we have are your academic writings, and those writings to me suggest that your views may well be considerably out of the mainstream."

For the second time in recent weeks, Republicans also used the hearing as an opportunity to criticize the D.C. Circuit and its caseload. They argue it isn't busy enough to warrant three more judges.

In April, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced Senate Bill 699, or the Court Efficiency Act, which proposes to reduce the number of judgeships on the D.C. Circuit from 11 to eight, but adds a seat to the Second and Eleventh circuits.

Grassley, ranking member of the judiciary committee, contends the legislation is an "efficient allocation of resources" and would save taxpayer dollars.

According to BLT, Grassley presented new evidence at Pillard's hearing to further support his proposed legislation: anonymous statements from sitting D.C. Circuit judges who contend more judges are not needed.

"I asked the judges whether, based on their experience, the workload on the D.C. Circuit warranted additional judges," Grassley said during Wednesday's hearing. "I also asked that those who cared to respond, to do so anonymously, so they could feel free to speak candidly."

The senator said one judge told him the following:

"I do not believe the current caseload of the D.C. Circuit or, for that matter, the anticipated caseload in the near future, merits additional judgeships at this time. ... If any more judges were added now, there wouldn't be enough work to go around."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the judiciary committee, countered that there is no precedent for the GOP's attempt to prevent "three well-qualified nominees" from filling the vacancies on the court.

"The D.C. Circuit caseload argument has been made in earnest only by Senate Republicans when they wish to prevent a Democratic president from fulfilling his constitutional duty to nominate judges," the Vermont Democrat said.

"No Senate Democrat opposed the May 2003 confirmation of John Roberts to the D.C. Circuit, even though it brought the caseload all the way down to its lowest level in the past 20 years -- 111 pending appeals per active judge.

"So I hope that we can work together to consider Professor Pillard's nomination, and those of Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins, on the merit of the nominee."

The American Constitution Society, a progressive legal organization, says it wants a prompt vote on Pillard's nomination.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is one of the nation's most important courts, hearing myriad of weighty constitutional matters and its caseload is growing," ACS President Caroline Fredrickson said in a statement Wednesday.

"The slow-walking of judicial nominees and blocking of up-or-down votes has flown in the face of the Senate's role to advise and consent. It is time for the Senate to move on filling the remaining vacancies on the D.C. Circuit."

Pillard's hearing was a far cry from Millett's, held earlier this month.

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.

President Barack Obama announced Pillard's nomination to the court -- considered by some to be the second most important in the country, after the U.S. Supreme Court -- in June, along with Millett and Wilkins.

Wilkins, like Millett, is considered uncontroversial. The federal district judge still awaits a hearing.

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

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