Judicial Blitz?

Even as we all wonder how serious Harry Reid actually is about engineering a July showdown over the filibustering of presidential nominees, Michael Shear of the New York Times reports that the White House is adding some fuel to the fire:

President Obama will soon accelerate his efforts to put a lasting imprint on the country’s judiciary by simultaneously nominating three judges to an important federal court, a move that is certain to unleash fierce Republican opposition and could rekindle a broader partisan struggle over Senate rules.

In trying to fill the three vacancies on the 11-member United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit at once, Mr. Obama will be adopting a more aggressive nomination strategy. He will effectively be daring Republicans to find specific ground to filibuster all the nominees.

This is an appropriate move for two reasons. First, the D.C. Circuit is very, very important, as the court of appeals for challenges to federal agency activities. It at present hangs in partisan equipoise even as retired judges temporarily filling in for the vacant judges given the panel a strong conservative tilt. It’s so important that Senate Republicans have been pushing what has been called a “reverse court-packing” scheme to reduce the number of judges on the D.C. Circuit from 11 to 8, shifting the positions to other courts of appeal.

And second, of course, Republican senators mulling a major filibuster action against Obama’s nominees have to deal with the incendiary rhetoric some of them deployed back in 2005, when they toyed with using the “nuclear option” to overcome Democratic filibuster threats against George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

If, as many observers expect, the whole confrontation is heading towards an explicit or implicit mega-deal in the Senate, the inclusion of three important judgeships on the chessboard would raise the stakes significantly. It’s all the more reason for progressives to keep the pressure up on Reid–and on the White House–against settling for half a loaf, or worse yet, for crumbs.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.