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Senate GOP blocks third D.C. Circuit nominee

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 19, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- Senate Republicans now have blocked all three of President Barack Obama's nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

On Monday evening, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on Robert Leon Wilkins' nomination to the court, considered by some to be the second most important in the country after the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cloture is the only procedure by which the Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter -- in this case, a judicial nomination -- and thereby overcome a filibuster.

Under the cloture rule, the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by a vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.

Senators voted 53-38 on Wilkins' nomination -- seven shy of the votes needed.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voted "present." Eight senators did not vote. They are: Sens. Mark Begich, D-Ark.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; David Vitter, R-La.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; and Mark Warner, D-Va.

Only two Republican senators -- Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- voted for cloture on Wilkins' nomination.

For the complete roll call, click here.

"Just three years ago, Senate Republicans found Robert Wilkins perfectly qualified to be a federal judge. Now, they're filibustering his nomination to the D.C. Circuit simply because they don't want President Obama to be able to fill that court's vacancies," said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way following Monday's vote.

"This is the latest example of Republicans in Congress attempting to circumvent laws they don't like simply by obstructing the workings of government."

Baker called the move "unacceptable."

"These nominees are not going away," she said.

"I hope that when they have a chance to vote again on these three nominations, reasonable Republican senators will follow the lead of Sens. Collins and Murkowski and allow yes-or-no votes."

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the nominations blockade must end now.

"The extremists in Congress have created a slow-motion government shutdown in the judiciary and the executive branch," he said, adding that senators need to focus on the nominees' qualifications.

Last week, senators voted 56-41 on Cornelia "Nina" Pillard's nomination -- just shy of the 60 votes needed to end debate. Really, the vote was 57-40, but Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his vote to "no," allowing him to move to reconsider the vote.

And last month Senate Republicans blocked Obama's other pick for the D.C. Circuit, Patricia Millett.

Millett, who currently heads Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP's Supreme Court practice and co-heads the firm's national appellate practice, was five votes shy of the 60 needed to invoke cloture.

Wilkins, who has served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2010, was nominated along with Pillard and Millett in June.

Republicans continue to argue that the D.C. Circuit doesn't need more than its current eight judges.

Democrats are threatening to rewrite Senate rules if the GOP continues to derail the President's judicial nominations.

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

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