Obama to name judicial picks
D.C. court nominees face GOP opposition
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama plans to jointly name three nominees to the federal appeals court in Washington, a White House official said Monday, setting up a Senate battle with Republicans who say the influential court doesn’t need more judges.
The official said Obama plans to announce his nomination of Patricia Ann Millett, Cornelia Pillard and Robert Leon Wilkins today in the Rose Garden, a joint announcement that is part of an aggressive new push in a yearslong partisan fight to make his imprint on the court. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. Pillard is a Georgetown University law professor, Millet is an appeals lawyer in Washington and Wilkins is a judge on the U.S. District Court in Washington. They would fill three vacancies currently on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often called the second-highest court in the nation because of its influence.
The court has nationwide and even international impact, since many cases relate to the balance of power in Washington and review of actions by federal agencies that affect health, safety and the environment. The D.C. circuit also is grooming grounds for the Supreme Court, with four current justices having served on it.
The nominees might not raise partisan rancor on their own – Millet worked in the George W. Bush administration, while Wilkins was confirmed without opposition in Obama’s first term. But the D.C. Circuit is at the center of a yearslong struggle between Obama and Senate Republicans.
Congress has authorized 11 judgeships for the D.C. circuit, but Republicans are questioning whether the court is busy enough to justify filling them. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has introduced legislation to eliminate one seat, move one to the 11th circuit based in Atlanta and move another to the 2nd Circuit based in New York. He says the workloads in those two circuits are much heavier than in Washington.
The White House has objected sharply to that legislation and noted that Republicans voted to fill those vacancies when President George W. Bush made the nominations.
The White House has been frustrated by the successful blocking of one of Obama’s nominees to the circuit and by key decisions there recently against Obama’s agenda.
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