This week, the Senate blocked the nomination of Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. President Obama nominated Wilkins to fill Judge David Sentelle’s seat. Failing to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster, Wilkins won’t move forward to an up-or-down, simple-majority vote by the Senate.
Senate Republicans insist that the D.C. Circuit does not need any more judges in order to properly carry its current caseload. While Wilkins might be well-qualified to be a circuit judge, the Senate just isn’t hiring. President Obama said in a written statement, “When it comes to judicial nominations, I am fulfilling my constitutional responsibility, but Congress is not. Instead, Senate Republicans are standing in the way of a fully-functioning judiciary that serves the American people.” Democrats in the Senate, led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), threaten to alter the rules governing judicial nominations to prevent filibustering.
Democrats’ and Republicans’ reasons for fixating on the D.C. vacancies are political and obvious. It’s an unusually influential court, issuing rulings on administrative and regulatory matters with nationwide implications. What about the rest of the country, though? While politicians in Washington fuss over the D.C. Circuit, what is being neglected elsewhere?