BLT: The Blog of Legal Times reports:
The Senate today blocked the nomination of Patricia Millett for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, throwing doubt on the ability of President Obama to fill three vacancies on the key court.
Millett's qualifications to serve on the bench were never an issue between Democrats and Republicans. Millett, an Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partner, has argued 32 times before the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the first of Obama's three simultaneous nominees to the court to come up for a vote in the Senate.
Republicans argued the D.C. Circuit does not need any more judges, and accused Obama of trying to stack the D.C. Circuit—the 11-member court has three vacancies—to win more favorable rulings on federal agency administrative actions.
Millett's nomination needed 60 votes to overcome a Republican block and advance in the Senate. The 55-38 vote, with three senators responding present, meant that she could not get an up-or-down confirmation vote.
The move today could reignite a Senate debate over changing the rules about filibusters. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today repeated his position—before the vote—that blocking Millett could cause Democrats to use the so-called "nuclear option."
Under that scenario, Democrats would try to change long-standing Senate rules to strip the ability of Republicans to filibuster nominations.
"If the Republican caucus finds that despite her stellar legal reputation and commitment to her country that somehow a filibuster is warranted, I believe this body will need to consider anew whether a rules change should be in order," Leahy said before the vote.
Had she been confirmed today, Millett, an Akin partner since 2007, would have been the sixth woman to sit on the D.C. Circuit—a bench that's often considered the nation's second highest court and has produced U.S. Supreme Court justices. The court's rulings on environmental law and regulation have national sweep.
Obama has only placed one judge on the D.C. Circuit in nearly five years in the White House. In May, the Senate unanimously confirmed Sri Srinivasan, making him the first new judge there since 2006. The White House withdrew the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for the D.C. Circuit in March, ending a nomination process that lasted more than two years because of constant opposition from Republican senators. . . .