Senate GOP blocks third court nominee

Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a third nominee of President Obama’s to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a 53-38 vote, the Senate failed to get the 60 votes necessary to break a Republican filibuster and move to a final confirmation vote on nominee Robert Leon Wilkins.

Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) were the only Republicans to vote to end the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also switched his vote to "no" to preserve his ability to bring the nomination to the floor again.

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The GOP argues confirming Wilkins to the court would tilt its balance. Republicans also argue the court doesn't need 11 seats because the eight judges currently serving have low caseloads. 

This is the same argument Republicans have made in blocking two other nominees to the court, which has three vacancies.

“It’s the least busy court right now in the country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Monday.

He added that Democrats are using the votes on judicial nominees as a distraction from ObamaCare’s disastrous rollout.

“The Senate ought to be spending its time with a real crisis, not a manufactured one,” he said. “Instead we'll spend our time today trying to distract the American people from the mess that is ObamaCare.”

Republicans have also said the president is trying to pack the court with liberals to rubber-stamp his agenda.

They say two of the court's seats should be moved to other appellate courts that have higher caseloads and judicial emergencies. Democrats used a similar argument to block former President George W. Bush's nominees to the court.

Democrats argued the Senate should advise and consent but not block Obama’s court nominations.

“It’s the duty of the Senate to advise and consent,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said ahead of the vote. “The Senate does not have the right to unilaterally decide that certain posts should not be filled by presidents.”

Reid called the Republican argument “absurd on its face.”

Senate Democrats have hinted that the GOP strategy could lead them to change the Senate's rules so that a simple-majority vote could be used to confirm the nominees. Changing the Senate's rules in this way is known as the “nuclear option.”

“This is becoming an embarrassing pattern in the United States Senate and this court is Exhibit A in the abuse of the filibuster,” Durbin said.

Earlier this year, Republicans blocked the nominations of Cornelia Pillard and Patricia Millett. Caitlin Halligan withdrew her nomination because of GOP threats to block her confirmation.

“No senator has questioned the character or ethics of the three woman Senate Republicans have already rejected for the D.C. Circuit. ... Nor has any senator questioned the character or ethics of Judge Wilkins,” Reid said. “So I am frustrated that Republicans would once again filibuster such a highly qualified nominee.”

Shortly after the vote, Obama said he was "deeply disappointed" by the Republican obstruction.

"I am deeply disappointed that Senate Republicans have once again refused to do their job and give well-qualified nominees to the federal bench the yes-or-no votes they deserve," Obama said. "The American people and our judicial system deserve better."