Circuit court nominations may recycle ‘nuclear option’ fight

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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As reports emerge of imminent nominations to fill three spots on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, talk of the “nuclear option” filibuster reform is again radiating from the Senate.

The “nuclear option” refers to the Senate Democratic majority’s ability to change the filibuster rule in the Senate with a simple majority vote, which would not require any Republican support — overturning an established rule precedent popular since the 1850s.

In the case of the nuclear option, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats have suggested changing the rule to prevent filibusters on presidential nominations, shifting the nature of the minority’s power in Senate advice-and-consent executive oversight.

Obama has been comparatively slow in proposing nominations than recent past presidents, citing GOP filibuster obstruction as the reason for the current staffing shortage in the federal judiciary.

Putting forward three nominees at once after the approval of Sri Srinivasan to the same court last week “is certain to unleash fierce Republican opposition and could rekindle a broader partisan struggle over Senate rules,” The New York Times reported on Monday.

“Let’s be clear. These threats to use the nuclear option because of obstruction are just pretexts for a power grab. This is another example of the majority manufacturing a crisis to justify heavy-handed behavior,” Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor of the Senate last week.

Last week’s fight to confirm Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which ended in Reid pushing the vote back to July, set the disgruntled tone for Democrats to arm the filibuster football over held nominees.

Fueling the likely heated July debate will be the residual fallout from a series of Obama recess appointments deemed unconstitutional earlier this year, all of which were pending Senate confirmation. The president gave the potential CFPB head a similar recess appointment at the start of 2012 — a move Republicans declared unconstitutional.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a sub-Supreme Court judicial powerhouse, where judges often sit prior to moving up to the nation’s highest court. The court regularly makes executive branch rulings.

Republicans have approved 19 presidential appointments in 2013, which is 15 more than Democrats approved for George W. Bush in 2005 — a mere four confirmations, according to the Huffington Post.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts states the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has not been full in almost 22 years, during the George H.W. Bush administration. President Obama’s as-of-yet unnamed nominees would fill all remaining vacancies on the second most powerful court in the country.

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