By Ramsey Cox
Shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday, the Senate voted 51-44 to confirm Nina Pillard as the next D.C. Circuit Court judge.
Republicans forced Democrats to use all 30 hours of debate on Pillard’s nomination by not agreeing to yield back any time.
Republicans had blocked her nomination last month, but then Democrats unilaterally changed the Senate filibuster rules.
The rule change means only 51 votes are needed to end a filibuster on nominations below the level of the Supreme Court. Sixty votes were needed before the change.
Reid triggered the “nuclear option” to make the change. It allows the Senate’s rules to be changed by a majority vote.
President Obama thanked the Senate for the vote in a statement Thursday morning heralding Pillard as displaying "an unwavering commitment to justice and integrity."
The president noted that, for the first time, five female judges would serve on the D.C. Circuit.
"I’m confident she will be a diligent, thoughtful and judicious addition to the D.C. Circuit," Obama said.
Pillard is a law professor at Georgetown University and has served as deputy assistant attorney general and as an assistant solicitor general.
Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Pillard’s record was “extremely liberal.”
“The left believes the president’s agenda runs straight through the D.C. Circuit Court, that’s why they pressured Senate Democrats to break the rules to change rules — to pack the D.C. Circuit Court,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. “No one who voted for this rule change can walk away from nominees like Ms. Pillard, they own them.”
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who is up for a tough reelection in 2014, voted against Pillard's confirmation.
On Tuesday, the Senate in a 56-38 vote confirmed Patricia Millett to serve in the D.C. Circuit Court — the second most influential court because it has jurisdiction over most federal agencies. Millett was the first “post-nuclear” nominee to be confirmed.
Democrats complained the GOP obstruction was political, while Republicans have accused Democrats and the administration of trying to move the court to the ideological left.
Republicans have argued that the D.C. Circuit Court doesn’t need 11 seats because the eight judges currently serving have low caseloads. Some have argued that two of the seats should be moved to other appellate courts that have higher caseloads and judicial emergencies.
Reid said that argument was “as flat as a bottle of beer that has been opened for three months.”
After Pillard’s confirmation, the Senate voted 57-39 to end debate on Chai Feldblum to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her confirmation vote is expected Thursday at 9:15 a.m. The Senate will continue to vote on nine other nominees, possibly until Saturday afternoon.
— This post was updated at 9:57 a.m.