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Patricia Millett’s Nomination Clears Judiciary Committee, But Will the Senate Filibuster?

Jessica Mason Pieklo

One of President Obama's judicial nominees cleared an important hurdle Thursday, but the question remains whether Senate Republicans will filibuster a final vote.

On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Patricia Millett’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, despite ongoing Republican attempts to block any confirmations to the second most powerful court in the country.

The 10-8 vote was along party lines, with all Republican senators on the committee voting against Millett. Critics of Millet’s nomination were transparent about their reasons for opposing the nominee, acknowledging that Millet, a partner at a prominent national law firm and experienced litigator who has appeared before the Supreme Court over 30 times, is more than qualified to sit on the federal bench. “I have no objection to her, personally,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said before the vote. “I don’t know enough about her but I think she’s probably well-qualified.”

Not surprisingly, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) took time before the vote to challenge both Millett’s nomination as well as the nomination of former Justice Department lawyer and current Georgetown University Law Center professor Nina Pillard who has come under fire from conservatives as a “militant” feminist critical of abstinence-only sex education and hostile to religious rights. Sessions, along with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), are pushing the misleadingly named Court Efficiency Act, a piece of legislation that would cap the total number of judges on the D.C. Circuit Court to seven, under the guise that the court’s workload no longer demands 11 justices. It’s a devious strategy that not only assures the conservative-leaning circuit court continues to lean conservative but also gives Senate Republicans cover in continuing to block President Obama’s judicial nominees by arguing their concerns are fiscal, not ideological.

In many ways, Millett is an easier vote to advance for Republicans than Pillard. Millet served in the solicitor general’s office for 11 years under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush and is seen by many as a moderate. President Obama’s other nominee to the circuit court, Robert L. Wilkins, is a current federal district judge who had previously worked as a public defender and corporate defense lawyer. Like Millett, Wilkins shares bipartisan support and should, absent any additional gamesmanship by Republicans, be confirmed.

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But additional gamesmanship by the Republicans is almost a guarantee. They clearly have their sights set on retaining conservative control over the D.C. circuit, remain very bitter about Democrats’ successful efforts to keep former Bush nominee Miguel Estrada off the bench, and have every reason to push Senate Democrats on filibuster reform since the Democrats have largely been all talk and no action on the issue. The Senate is not expected to vote on these nominees until after the August recess, leaving open the question of whether lawmakers will spend the month crafting an agreement to get these well-qualified and deserving nominees confirmed, or if Republicans will use the time to shore up support for yet another filibuster.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: GOP Candidates Offer a Collective ‘No’ on Merrick Garland

Ally Boguhn

Ohio Gov. John Kasich noted that while he thought the president shouldn’t have made a Supreme Court nomination, Republicans were also to blame for the chaos the matter has caused.

Republican presidential candidates this week reacted to President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee exactly how you might expect, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a plan to create an “AIDS and HIV-free generation.”

Republican Presidential Candidates React to Obama’s Supreme Court Nomination

Republican senators weren’t the only party members vowing to oppose Obama’s Supreme Court nomination this week. GOP presidential candidates also doubled down on their charges that the next president should be the one to appoint the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Republican presidential candidates moved swiftly to denounce the president’s decision after Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacant seat.

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“I think the next president should make the pick. And I think they shouldn’t go forward. And I believe I’m pretty much in line with what the Republicans are saying,” Donald Trump said on CNN’s New Day ahead of Obama’s decision.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took the opportunity to again attack Trump. “A so-called ‘moderate’ Democrat nominee is precisely the kind of deal that Donald Trump has told us he would make—someone who would rule along with other liberals on the bench like Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor,” Cruz said in a statement on the nomination. “Make no mistake, if Garland were confirmed, he would side predictably with President Obama on critical issues such as undermining the Second Amendment, legalizing partial-birth abortion, and propping up overreaching bureaucratic agencies like the EPA and the IRS.”

Cruz reiterated that the Senate “should not vote on any nominee until the next president is sworn into office.”

Speaking in Pennsylvania Wednesday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) noted that while he thought the president shouldn’t have made a nomination, Republicans were also to blame for the chaos the matter has caused.

“What I felt should have happened—I don’t think the president should have sent anybody up now,” Kasich said, according to CBS News. “Because it’s not going to happen. It’s just more division. Now we have more fighting, more fighting, more fighting.”

“I think this is not good for our country. It’s a roving debate. Both sides, you know, hands are guilty. That’s where we are,” Kasich concluded.

Across the aisle, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sanders called on Republicans to consider Garland. 

“He has chosen a nominee with considerable experience on the bench and in public service, a brilliant legal mind, and a long history of bipartisan support and admiration,” Clinton said in a statement on the decision. “Now, it’s up to members of the Senate to meet their own, and perform the Constitutional duty they swore to undertake.”

“Judge Garland is a strong nominee with decades of experience on the bench,” Sanders said in a statement. “Refusing to hold hearings on the president’s nominee would be unprecedented. President Obama has done his job. It’s time for Republicans to do theirs.”

However, speaking on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show Thursday night, Sanders noted that while he will support Garland, “there are some more progressive judges out there” who could have been picked, and if elected, he would ask Obama to withdraw Garland’s name so he could pick a nominee of his own.

Sanders Releases Plan to “Create an AIDS and HIV-Free Generation”

Sanders on Monday released his plan to combat HIV and AIDS, promising to expand treatment and help lower drug prices.

“Today, one of the biggest problems in caring for the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV is the crisis of access to affordable drugs,” reads the plan’s introduction. “One of the great moral issues of our day is that people with HIV and AIDS are suffering and, in some cases, dying in America because they can’t afford to pay the outrageous prices being charged for the medicine they need to live.”

Among the ideas in Sanders’ plan is the establishment of a “a multibillion-dollar prize fund to incentivize drug development,” which would award $3 billion annually to innovations in HIV and AIDS therapy. Sanders promised that his universal health-care plan would include efforts to ensure insurance companies could not discriminate against those with HIV or AIDS, that he would expand mental health and addiction treatment services, and to stop trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that would increase the price of medication.

Sanders’ plan notes that there should be “prevention and treatment beyond health care,” which would include civil rights protections for LGBTQ people and those living with HIV or AIDS, as well as ensuring that schools provide “age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education and all Americans should have access to scientifically-accurate information regarding HIV infection.”

This isn’t the first time Sanders has addressed HIV and AIDS, as the Hill reported. In May 2012, Sanders called for the elimination of HIV and AIDS drug monopolies, which he suggested keep prices for treatment so high that many are forced to go without.

“The simple fact is that the prices of patent medicines are a significant barrier to access to health for millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans and people die because of it,” Sanders said at the time, before the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security.

Sanders’ proposal came just days after rival Democratic presidential candidate Clinton faced harsh criticism for praising the late President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan for having started a “a national conversation” on HIV and AIDS. Clinton later apologized for her remarks, noting a post on Medium that her assertion had been a “mistake.”

“To be clear, the Reagans did not start a national conversation about HIV and AIDS,” Clinton wrote. “That distinction belongs to generations of brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, along with straight allies, who started not just a conversation but a movement that continues to this day.”

What Else We’re Reading

Comedian and television host Samantha Bee had the “perfect response” to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough telling Clinton she should “smile.”

A new report from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Donald Trump’s health-care plan would leave 21 million Americans without health insurance “as the replacement health-care policies would only cover 5 percent of the 22 million individuals who would lose coverage upon the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The study found that Trump’s plan would cost between $270 billion and $500 billion over the next ten years.

In an exclusive for Fusion, Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy reports on NARAL’s new campaign to hold Trump accountable for “the way he and his campaign have targeted and victimized women,” and contrast the Republican presidential candidate with Clinton.

Cecily Hilleary outlines for Voice of America the many ways voting restrictions and barriers impact Native Americans, many of whom are unable to get proof of citizenship or residency, face language barriers, and have to make hours-long trips to get to a polling location.

“I feel empty inside. I feel like I don’t have a say in the political process. This is taxation without representation all over again. If we already paid our debt, we should be released without the bondage. But we’re being punished for a lifetime,” Harold Pendas told ThinkProgress about losing his right to vote due to a felony conviction. Florida, which had a critical primary battle on Tuesday, blocked more than 1.5 million state residents from voting this week due to the state’s felon disenfranchisement laws.

International Business Times’ Ned Resnikoff explains how a Republican brokered convention could allow mega-donors a “second chance” to push through their favorite candidate to the nomination.

Analysis Abortion

‘Obstruction on Steroids’: Republicans Use Scalia’s Death to Try and Shut Down the Supreme Court

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Congressional Republicans’ promise to not even consider a replacement nominee until after the 2016 presidential election has highlighted a disturbing trend in American politics.

Read more of our articles on Justice Antonin Scalia’s potential successor here.

In the days following Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, congressional Republicans’ promise to not even consider a replacement nominee until after the 2016 presidential election has highlighted a disturbing trend in American politics. Although Republicans have blocked President Obama’s political agenda since the moment he took the oath of office, nowhere has this obstruction been more egregious than the federal judiciary.

While the chest-thumping from Republicans over a replacement for Justice Scalia has gathered the most press attention, the reality is our entire federal judiciary is in crisis thanks to Republican obstructionist tactics. Since President Obama took office, Republicans on the judiciary committee have consistently dragged out the confirmation process for or rejected outright his nominations.

The immediate result has been to slow down the federal courts to the point of crisis.

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There are currently 75 vacancies on the lower courts. Thirty-one of those vacancies are considered to be “judicial emergencies,” which means there are not simply enough judges on those courts to hear the number of cases being filed.

The number of judicial emergencies, for that matter, has increased by 158 percent since January 2015. There are also seven known future vacancies where judges have given their notice they will step down. Not surprisingly, most of these vacancies are clustered in conservative judicial districts, where an Obama appointment could potentially moderate the bench.

“In a number of situations we have very qualified nominees for circuit court judgeships, many are historic nominees,” explained Marge Baker, executive vice president of the progressive advocacy organization People for the American Way, in an interview with Rewire. “In Alabama we have what would be the first African American from Alabama to sit on the Eleventh Circuit. That would be huge. In Indiana it would be the first African-American woman from Indiana to sit on the Seventh Circuit. These are historic nominations of eminently qualified people and there’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be filled.”

Compare this situation with that of the final two years of George W. Bush’s presidency, when Democrats took over the Senate after the 2006 midterm elections. In 2007, the Democratic Senate confirmed 40 of President Bush’s circuit and district court nominees. That was just in the Democrats’ first year as the majority. By the end of 2008, the Democratic-controlled Senate had confirmed a total of 68 judicial nominees.

By contrast, the newly Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 11 judges in 2015.

“This is Republican senators in this country saying they are not going to do their job, and it’s a job the Constitution requires them to do,” Baker said. “It’s an explosion of obstruction that we are seeing.”

And it’s an explosion of obstruction that is only getting amplified by the electoral cycle. In January 2016, the conservative pressure group Heritage Action threatened legislators with bad legislative scorecards, should they vote to confirm any more of the president’s judicial nominees.

For those nominees that do eventually get a vote, the confirmation process has been inexplicably delayed, with many nominees waiting more than 100 days for a confirmation vote. In almost every case, the nominee had strong bipartisan support and no opposition. Republicans just refused to act.

If the effect of Republican obstruction has been to bring the lower courts to a near standstill, their current strategy of blocking any Supreme Court nominee until after the election could bring the country’s highest court to a full stop. Consider it another form of government shutdown by the GOP.

“If the Republicans succeed in what they want to do, they are going to be leaving the Court without a ninth justice for at least a year and a half, or close to two terms of its work,” Baker said.

“It leaves you speechless, in terms of how do you deal with this level of disregard for the constitutional duty these senators were elected to perform?” she asked.

“On the one hand, this is part and parcel of the general obstruction the president has hit since the moment he took office,” Baker said. “What’s different and even more extreme [with the Supreme Court nomination] is there is no precedent for the party in the majority saying that they will not consider any nominee for the Supreme Court because it is the last year of the president’s term.”

“It is beyond the same-old thing. It is a crisis of constitutional proportions,” Baker continued.

So far, President Obama has shown little signs he’s going to play along with Republicans and hold a nomination back. And recent polling suggests the American public is also growing tired of the political posturing by conservatives around a replacement for Justice Scalia. The question for congressional Republicans, though, is do they care?

“There isn’t anything more sacred than what the Senate needs to do with regard to judicial nominations,” said Baker.

“This is obstruction on steroids.”