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D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: The Second Most Important Court in the Nation Must Fill Its Vacancies

I was delighted to be present when President Obama announced the nominations of Patricia A. Millet, Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, and Robert L. Wilkins to fill the three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday morning in the Rose Garden of the White House. It was a moment for celebration, but also to focus on the hard work ahead to urge Senators to give these exceptional nominees a confirmation promptly.

The President spoke forcefully about the critical importance of this court, noting that it is widely considered the second-most important court in the land and that it decides cases on a broad range of issues, from environmental protections to worker’s rights — and, I would add, women’s rights, and critical health and safety regulations that women need to protect themselves and their families. As the President put it, “the court’s decisions impact almost every aspect of our lives.”

But this President’s nominees have routinely had to wait significantly longer than the nominees by the Bush Administration. In fact, President Obama’s first outstanding nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Caitlin Halligan, was filibustered twice and blocked for over two years before she withdrew her nomination. Even after the confirmation of Sri Srinivasan last month, there are still three vacancies on this important court — over one-fourth of its seats. And it is hard to disagree with the President Obama’s conclusion — “Anybody who values the role of our courts should find that unacceptable regardless of your party.”

The President praised the remarkable legal qualifications of each of the nominees, and warmly welcomed their families. I was especially pleased to be there for the announcement because I have had the pleasure of working directly with one of the nominees, Georgetown University Law Center Professor Nina Pillard, over many years. As the President noted in his remarks, Nina played a key role in two watershed Supreme Court cases for women’s rights in which the Center also participated: one opening the Virginia Military Institute to women (United States v. Virginia) and the other ensuring that the Family Medical Leave Act remained strong (Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs).

It was quite an exciting experience to be at the White House for this historic announcement. And now, it’s up to the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibility and promptly consider the nominees to the three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit and to give each an up-or-down vote. Filling all three vacancies will permit this important court to function at full capacity, so that it can serve all those across the nation who rely on this court for justice.