Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

November 19, 2013

Up-or-down vote

Senate Republicans this week are likely to take a vote that is unfair, unwise and bad for the functioning of the government. Again.

For the third time in three weeks, the Senate will consider a presidential nominee to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The first two nominees, Patricia Millett and Cornelia Pillard, failed to attract the 60 votes necessary to clear GOP filibusters. There’s little reason to think that dynamic will change for the third, Judge Robert Wilkins.

Senate Republicans are not assessing these nominees on their merits, as each deserves. Rather, Republicans have made them victims of a toxic and unresolvable “debate” about the proper size of the D.C. Circuit. Republicans accuse President Obama of attempting to tilt its ideological balance, which, of course, he is. And they argue that the court isn’t busy enough to require its vacant seats to be filled.

Democrats insist the court still needs more active judges, and they point out that Republicans attempted to fill the court during the George W. Bush years, when the caseload wasn’t much different.

But the question of whether the D.C. Circuit needs all 11 of its judicial slots doesn’t need to be resolved to offer the president’s legitimate nominees a fair up-or-down vote, and Republicans are wrong to use that as a pretext to block them. It’s transparently self-serving of GOP lawmakers to oppose D.C. Circuit nominees only when it’s a Democrat’s turn to pick them. If Republicans truly are concerned that the court is too large, they should offer a plan to reduce its size — in future presidencies. That would separate raw partisan motivation from authentic concern about the state of the court system, and it’s the only sensible way to make changes to its size amid sharp partisan contention. In the meantime, Republicans should give the president’s legitimate, well-qualified nominees a fair hearing, instead of degrading further the already-broken process of staffing the government and the courts.

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