So it’s now clear the earlier reports that the president might quickly offer nominations to fill openings on the D.C. Court of Appeals, perhaps setting up a grand confrontation over nomination filibusters in the Senate, wasn’t a bluff (as reported by the New York Times’ Michael Shear):
The president named Cornelia T.L. Pillard, a law professor; Patricia Ann Millett, an appellate lawyer; and Robert L. Wilkins, a federal district judge, as his choices to fill the three open spots on the 11-member court. The three joined Mr. Obama in the Rose Garden on Tuesday morning.
Republicans, at least initially, are rising to the bait:
Even before the formal announcement, Republicans signaled their opposition to what they called Mr. Obama’s effort to “pack” the appeals court with judges who would adhere to the ideology of the president and his Democratic allies.
“It’s hard to imagine the rationale for nominating three judges at once for this court given the many vacant emergency seats across the country, unless your goal is to pack the court to advance a certain policy agenda,” Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said on Monday night.
Mr. Grassley and other Republicans in the Senate are pushing a plan that would reduce the size of the appeals court in Washington by shifting three of its judges to circuit courts in other parts of the country. They argue that other circuits are overworked and in need of additional judges.
Democrats angrily oppose that idea, calling it part of an elaborate effort by Republicans to prevent Mr. Obama from putting his legitimate stamp on the judiciary, the way his predecessors like George W. Bush have already done.
Initial skirmishing aside, the next shoe to drop belongs to Harry Reid, who has already pledged to invoke the so-called “nuclear option” to change the Senate rules governing filibusters (via a straight vote on the Senate floor that only requires 51 votes, or 50 plus Joe Biden) if Republicans move to filibuster key Cabinet-level nominations due to come up in July. It’s unclear at this point what sort of tripwire Reid will establish—that will depend on how many firm Democratic votes he can nail down for the “nuclear option,” and also what he thinks Republicans might ultimately accept, insofar as he probably doesn’t really want to “go nuclear.”
As someone who hopes the confrontation is maximal, and that a “nuclear summer” does arrive, and that Reid will be forced to pull the trigger, I’m feeling reasonably sunny today. The larger the number of filibuster targets they have, the less likely it is that GOP Senators will be able to pull themselves back from the abyss, and maybe we’ll get real filibuster reform when the shouting’s over. So now we need a good, hearty apes-on-a-treadmill escalation of hostilities.
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