Activist Toolkit: Stopping Senate Obstruction of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals



Table of Contents


Why It Matters

Town Halls

Contact Your Senator

Social Media Tools

Submitting Letters to the Editor

Talking Points

Further Resources



In June 2013, President Obama nominated three extremely well-qualified people to fill the three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: appellate attorney Patricia Millet, Georgetown law professor and former civil rights attorney Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, and D.C. District Court judge and former public defender Robert Wilkins. These three nominees – two women and an African American man – have not only had exceptional careers: they would bring important racial, gender and career diversity to the federal bench.

Pillard, for example, has distinguished herself in both the legal and academic realms. As a litigator, she won the Supreme Court case opening the Virginia Military Institute to women. As a professor at Georgetown Law School, she runs Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute, which helps any attorney seeking assistance in preparing for arguments before the Supreme Court, regardless of who they represent, and without charge. The Institute is so well-regarded that it helped attorneys in every single Supreme Court case last term.

But even before the President nominated them, Senate Republicans had threatened to filibuster the nominees—whoever they were, whatever their qualifications.

Senate Republicans are following through on this threat without a hint of shame. Senator Chuck Grassley, who is the Ranking Member on the Judiciary Committee, is leading the effort to obstruct these uncontroversial nominees: in fact, he’s so desperate to prevent the President from filling the seats that he even introduced a bill to remove the seats entirely. In a move we’ve become all too familiar with, Grassley and other Senate Republicans are concealing their partisan obstruction with deceptive and misleading arguments.  This time, they’re claiming that the court’s workload is too low to justify appointing new justices, even though that simply isn’t the case.

Yet it seems that facts don’t matter to the Senate Republicans. They’re too busy making sure absolutely nothing gets done in Washington to worry about what’s actually true.


Why It Matters:

The D.C. Circuit is widely regarded as the second-most important court in the United States – behind only the U.S. Supreme Court – because of the complexity and significance of the cases it decides. As the court with jurisdiction over many federal regulations, it makes decisions that affect all Americans, and often its decisions are final because the Supreme Court only hears a small fraction of cases brought to it. It rules on issues from workers’ rights and environmental regulation to national security: issues that we cannot afford to ignore. Currently, the court leans heavily to the right—and Senate Republicans are trying to preserve this ideological tilt by blocking the President’s nominees.


Town Halls

One of the best ways to help hold these senators accountable for their obstruction is to attend a town hall and ask them outright why they’re standing in the way of progress. Remember, as with a letter to the editor, be firm but polite, and let them respond. We want their answers on the record, which means letting them answer the question you’ve asked. Try to bring a friend and have them record a video of your question and their response – if you get one, you can send it to us and we’ll help distribute it.


You can use the following as a basis for your questions:

  • Political gridlock is bringing our country to a standstill, and nothing is getting done. We put a man on the moon, but we can’t figure out how to fill our courts. Will you ensure nominees to the DC Circuit Court move to a yes or no vote – the way it’s supposed to be under the Constitution?
  • The DC Circuit Court rules on important issues that affect us all, from the environment to national security. Don’t you think these issues are more important than a partisan grudge against the President?
  • The court system allows us to defend our rights – all of us, whether we’re consumers, workers, or corporations. Will you support allowing the court system designed by the Constitution to work as it’s supposed to, and let the Senate vote on the vacant seats of the DC Circuit Court?
  • There are three incredibly well qualified nominees for the DC Circuit.  As just an example, there’s Nina Pillard.  She won a case before the Supreme Court opening the Virginia Military Institute to women and another case protecting the Family and Medical Leave Act.  She runs a program at Georgetown Law School that offers free help to lawyers arguing cases before the Supreme Court no matter which side they represent.  Can you promise that you will allow the Senate to have a yes-or-no vote on her confirmation?


Contact Your Senator:

If your senator is a Republican, write to them, e-mail them or call them, and ask that they give these nominees a yes-or-no vote (as opposed to a Republican-led filibuster). If your senator is a Democrat, reach out and let them know that you care about the DC Circuit Court vacancies, and that you want them to take the lead on supporting President Obama’s nominees. You can find your senator’s contact information here.  

You can use the Talking Points below for some ideas on what to say. Remember to be polite and brief, to make sure your message gets across. If you contact your senator, please let us know how it went.


Social Media Tools

Social media is a fun, easy, and effective way to spread the word about the DC Circuit Court.  We hope you’re able to share the following social media tools and encourage your friends and family to do so as well.


RESOURCES FOR SHARING ONLINE – People For the American Way’s Facebook Page

@peoplefor – People For the American Way’s Twitter handle

The Critically Important DC Court – Talking Points About the DC Circuit

America’s Progress at Risk – People For the American Way Report on DC Circuit

Judicial Nominations – Articles tagged “judicial nominations” from People For the American Way’s blog



Click here to share this toolkit on Facebook.

Click on the following images to view/share on Facebook:



Court activists have been using the hashtags #CourtsMatter, #EndGridlock, #DCcircuit, and #Filibuster to raise awareness on the importance of the courts and the need to fill the DC Circuit.

Social media is also a great way to demand the attention and call out Senate obstructionists.  Click here for the full list of Senator Twitter accounts.  Please find the Senate obstructionist you wish to target, and plug their twitter handle in one of the sample tweets below.



 Check out this activist toolkit on the #DCcircuit. We need to #EndGridlock because #CourtsMatter

 Hey @Senator X, we want up and down votes on the #DCciruit, not a #Filibuster! Don't be an obstructionist, #Endgridlock

 The #DCcircuit is the most important court Americans have never heard of – let’s change that! #CourtsMatter Check out

 Nina Pillard deserves an up and down vote for the #DCcircuit -- stop the Senate obstruction!


Submitting Letters to the Editor:

Writing a Letter To the Editor (LTE) is an effective way of raising awareness on an issue.  The following tips and “talking points” will guide you through your LTE submission. 

If you have any questions about the process or content of your LTE, feel free to reach out to us by emailing


LTE Submission Logistics

  • As a rule of thumb, you will want to keep your LTE under 200 words.  However, be sure to find out the LTE guidelines of the paper[s] you are submitting to beforehand to double-check that 200 words is an acceptable length – generally, guidelines are posted online. However you can also find out by calling the newspaper’s office.
  • Do not feel obligated to only submit LTE’s to large newspapers.  Your local paper is a great place to start the discussion. At the same time, do not feel hesitant to submit to bigger papers even if the chances of acceptance are slimmer.
  • To increase your chances of acceptance, submit your letter using two methods – standard mail and email.  Writing your letter by hand or printing out your letter and then sending it via the mail shows that you have been intentional about your submission and that you really care about the issue.  At the same time, sending your letter via email offers newspaper editors – who are already pressed for time and content – a quick way to get material into their publication.  So if you have the time, please submit using both methods, and acknowledge in both that you are doing so.
  • Be sure to include your contact information in your submission.  Many newspapers will require their employees to contact an LTE submitter before publication.  If you do not feel comfortable sharing your information publicly in the newspaper print, be sure to specify that stipulation at the bottom of your letter.


What To Write About

  • Provide background information on the DC Circuit Court and the obstruction of these nominees.  Keep in mind your audience will most likely have never heard of the DC Circuit Court or the three nominees before. For examples of concise information you can use on the Court, see the Talking Points section below.
  • Try to identify a target for your LTE. If you live in a state represented by a Republican senator, or a senator on the Judiciary Committee, you could use the letter to ask them to support a yes-or-no vote. By identifying a local target, you can make your LTE relevant to your community.


After Submitting Your LTE

  • If your LTE has been printed, PLEASE let us know.  We’ll work to amplify your message and will make sure your public officials see it.
  • If your LTE is not accepted, do not be deterred.  There are many way you can contribute to the movement.  A quick way you can make sure your hard work does not go to waste is by repurposing what you wrote and mailing it in to your senator.


Talking Points

  • The D.C. Circuit Court rules on vital issues that affect all Americans. As former Chief Judge Patricia Wald has written, “The D.C. Circuit hears the most complex, time-consuming, labyrinthine disputes over regulations with the greatest impact on ordinary Americans’ lives.”
  • There are now three vacancies on the 11-member court, and President Obama has nominated three highly qualified people – Patricia Millett, Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, and Robert Wilkins – to fill them. In an all-too-familiar scenario, Senate Republicans are obstructing these nominees for political gain.
  • Republican gridlock and abuse of the filibuster have brought Washington to a standstill. The threatened filibuster of these nominees is just another example of the shameful, craven approach to governing that the Republican Party has made their specialty. This effort to rig the court by preventing a Democratic president from filling existing vacancies shows a deep hostility to the constitutional ideal of an independent judiciary, and it must be countered.
  • The Constitution gives the President the right to nominate justices, and it tasks the Senate with approving or rejecting them –  not with letting them languish for years because it helps them politically. It’s time for these senators to do their job. Making the work of the DC Circuit Court more difficult by refusing to fill its vacancies for partisan reasons is a betrayal of the American people.
  • For more information on the DC Circuit Court, visit here.


Further Resources – People For the American Way

The Critically Important DC Court – People For the American Way Report on DC Circuit

Judicial Nominations-related articles from People For the American Way’s blog

Judicial Nominations-related articles from People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch – People For the American Way’s Facebook Page

@peoplefor – People For the American Way’s Twitter handle



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