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The showdown in Washington over judicial nominees

In case you’ve missed one of the other dramas unfolding in Washington, here’s a recap.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — one of the nation’s most high profile courts and, often, the farm team for the U.S. Supreme Court — typically has 11 judges.  Right now, four of those sitting on the court are Republican appointees, four are Democratic, and three are vacant.

President Obama has three highly qualified nominees to fill those vacancies: Patricia Millet, Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins. Millet and Pillard have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are ready for an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.  Wilkins has his committee vote tomorrow.

But Republicans in the Senate have responded with a number of tactics designed to prevent the nominees from getting a confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

They’ve argued that the court isn’t really that busy and doesn’t need 11 judges. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa has proposed a plan that would reallocate seats on certain courts, eliminating three from the D.C. Circuit.

They’ve accused the president of “court-packing” by performing his constitutionally-authorized duty of appointing judges.

And they’ve threatened to filibuster to stop a floor vote.  To overcome that Democrats would need to recruit some Republican colleagues to get to the magical 60 needed to clear such a filibuster and get the first nominee, Millet, to a floor vote.

Today, as widely reported (here in the Huffington Post), Democrats are threatening to go nuclear, “using arcane Senate procedures to force votes on stalled nominees with a simple 51-vote majority, instead of the 60 votes required to break a filibuster.”

Stay tuned.

 

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