The federal courts got their first judge today who was confirmed in a filibuster-proof vote. Patricia Millett, one of the most prominent and widely respected members of the Supreme Court bar, was confirmed by a vote of 56–38.
Before the Senate took the historic step of invoking the so-called “nuclear option” and eliminating the filibuster for most nominations, 60 votes would have been required to force a vote on Millett in the face of Republican obstruction. Now, it took only a simple majority to fill one of three empty seats on the nation’s second-most powerful court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Senate Democrats did not resort to the nuclear option easily. It was only after Republicans filibustered all three of President Obama’s exceedingly qualified, consensus nominees to the important D.C. Circuit that even senators who long opposed the rules change felt they had no other choice.
“By refusing to allow a vote for any existing vacancy on the D.C. Circuit, Republicans took their determined obstruction to an unprecedented level,” Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy said during Tuesday’s vote on Millett. “As the senior most Senator serving today, I approach changes to the tradition and history of the Senate with great reluctance.”
As Leahy points out, Millett is a corporate lawyer who has argued 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and worked in the Justice Department in both Democratic and Republican administrations. But even Millett could not overcome wholesale Republican obstruction before Democrats went nuclear.
Millett was one of several blocked nominees who, having overcome other significant obstacles to securing a nomination and committee approval, will now see easy confirmation to their seats on Tuesday, and in the weeks and months to come.