Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday he plans to have two more test votes on nominations to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals by the end of the week.
The move is intended to determine whether Republicans will follow through on their threat to filibuster judicial picks Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins. If they do, as seems likely, the Nevada Democrat has said he may revive his own threat to end the minority’s ability to filibuster nominations through the so-called nuclear option. Several Republicans brokered a deal with Reid in July to avert the nuclear option.
But on Tuesday, Reid said he would likely set the procedural gears in motion for the Pillard and Wilkins votes. He had already indicated that weekend work would be possible between Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.
Republicans have already blocked the nomination of Patricia Ann Millett to the first of three open seats on the appeals panel.
In addition to the comments made last week by Leahy, the Judiciary chairman, California Democrat Barbara Boxer is expressing openness to a rules changes for the process for judicial nominees.
“I don’t want to change the rules, but I am open to it if Republicans keep obstructing,” Boxer said in a brief statement to CQ Roll Call.
There’s long been concern among some supporters of abortion rights about deploying the nuclear option for lifetime appointments to the federal bench, because a Republican White House could team up with a future GOP-led Senate to confirm judicial nominees hostile to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
Asked Tuesday if he thought the filibusters of Millett and Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency broke the terms of the July agreement to avert the ‘nuclear option,’ Reid hearkened back to an earlier debate.
“I’m not as concerned about what happened this past July,” Reid said of his most recent deal with Republicans. Instead, he referred back to the 2005 “gang of 14″ agreement on judicial nominations. Reid said he saw no substantive opposition to Millett’s nomination to a seat on the D.C. Circuit, dismissing the suggestion that her nomination qualified as an “extraordinary circumstance” under the terms of the 2005 deal.
Arizona Republican John McCain, who brokered the July deal and was also a member of the 2005 group, had explicitly referenced the extraordinary circumstances provision in a floor speech announcing opposition to moving forward with the Millett nomination last week.
GOP senators contend that the D.C. Circuit does not have a heavy enough caseload to merit filling the three vacant seats, but Senate Democrats argue they are simply filling vacancies to a court with a complex responsibility over federal regulations.