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Obama to fill influential circuit court vacancies Tuesday, says official

President Obama will announce three nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in a Rose Garden ceremony on Tuesday morning, a White House official said Monday.

The president plans to tap U.S. District Court Judge Robert Leon Wilkins, Georgetown Law professor Cornelia Pillard and attorney Patricia Ann Millett to the court, considered the second most powerful in the nation.

“Tomorrow, at 10:15 a.m. in the Rose Garden, the president will announce his intent to nominate three candidates for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,” a White House official said. “Patricia Ann Millett, who has served in administrations of both parties; Cornelia Pillard who served as former deputy assistant attorney general and former assistant to the solicitor general; and Judge Robert Wilkins, who was confirmed unanimously for the D.C. District Court in 2010.”

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Both Millet and Pillard have litigated before the Supreme Court, while Wilkins, a district judge in the District of Columbia, was unanimously confirmed in 2010.

Last month, the Senate unanimously approved the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to the court, which at that point had four open vacancies. Srinivasan filled a spot opened by the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts to the Supreme Court. His confirmation came after Senate Republicans twice filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Halligan, a New York City lawyer.

Since then, Republicans in the Senate have suggested reducing the size of the conservative-tilted appeals court from 11 to eight judges. Senate Democrats have rejected that proposal, and Obama's decision to publicly promote these candidates' nominations is a sign the president is willing to dig into a fight on the issue.

"All of these seats were filled under the previous administration," said the White House official. 

The president issued a fiery statement in reaction to Halligan's blocked nomination in March.

"I am deeply disappointed that even after nearly two and a half years, a minority of senators continued to block a simple up-or-down vote on her nomination," Obama said in a statement. "This unjustified filibuster obstructed the majority of Senators from expressing their support. I am confident that with Caitlin’s impressive qualifications and reputation, she would have served with distinction."

Earlier in the year, Obama lamented the "pattern of obstruction" by Republicans.

"In the past, filibusters of judicial nominations required 'extraordinary circumstances,' and a Republican senator who was part of this agreement articulated that only an ethics or qualification issue — not ideology — would qualify," Obama said.