This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee completed its three-part examination of President Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit by holding a hearing for Robert Wilkins. The Committee held its hearings for Patricia Millett and Cornelia "Nina" Pillard before the summer recess.
As he did at those hearings, Chuck Grassley, the committee's senior Republican, signaled his party's intent to prevent the president from filling the three vacancies on the 11-member D.C. Circuit, regardless of who the nominees are. Their argument that the court already has enough judges to handle its caseload has been contradicted by their own actions: During the Bush Administration, when the D.C. Circuit's caseload was lower than today, Republicans confirmed judges to the ninth, tenth, and eleventh seats. Now they say that the D.C. Circuit should have only eight seats, and have even introduced a bill to strip the D.C. Circuit of the seats that President Obama's nominees would fill. Every committee Republican has cosponsored the so-called Court Efficiency Act.
In fact, the GOP arguments look even more foolish today than they did a few days ago, in light of yesterday's subcommittee hearing on Sens. Coons and Leahy's Federal Judgeship Act. That bill would create a number of new judgeships, adopting the specific recommendations of the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States, a body of federal judges chaired by the Chief Justice. At the hearing, the chair of the Judicial Conference's Committee on Judicial Resources testified publicly and at length about the exhaustively detailed data it collects and publishes on the caseload and staffing of the nation's federal courts, which forms the basis of the Judicial Conference's recommendations.
And what kind of evidence have Republicans cited to justify their assertion that the D.C. Circuit doesn't need any more judges? Anonymous statements purportedly from a couple of D.C. Circuit judges, apparently written in response to a request to all of the D.C. Circuit judges from Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee's senior Republican. The full responses from these judges and from any others who might have also responded to Grassley's questions are unknown, since he did not put them into the public record after citing them in July.
Yesterday's hearing also shed light on another aspect of GOP hypocrisy over the D.C. Circuit. The GOP bill to strip seats from the D.C. Circuit has a provision apparently designed to mask its court rigging aspects by adding one seat apiece to the Second and Eleventh Circuits (which the Judicial Conference has not recommended new seats for).
But at yesterday's hearing, Sen. Jeff Sessions – a cosponsor of the court-rigging bill – specifically cited the Second Circuit as one that did not seem to need new judgeships, based on the data presented by the Judicial Conference. And he approvingly noted that the Eleventh Circuit has not requested and does not need any new judgeships.
Yet he is co-sponsoring Grassley's court-rigging bill, which would add judgeships to those very circuits.
So the GOP's effort to obstruct the nominations of Patty Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins looks even more foolish and without merit than it did a few days ago. Once the committee approves all three of these unquestionably qualified nominees, the full Senate should be allowed to vote on whether to confirm them.