National Consumers League

Another nominee for the US Court of Appeals in DC needlessly blocked

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
The US Senate has rejected President Obama’s pick to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia yet again. The nominee, Georgetown Professor Cornelia Pillard, is a highly qualified lawyer who has very strong credentials and a very moderate record.

Senate was not able to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP procedural blockade as the measure failed by a vote of 56 to 41. Two Republican women Senators – Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted to support the nominee. Nina – the name Professor Pillard goes by – is a friend of consumers and a personal acquaintance. I know her to be moderate in every way.

Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, stated that he believes the minority in the Senate doesn’t want women on the Court. “Women are grossly underrepresented in our federal courts. So what kind of message are Senate Republicans sending by refusing to even allow a vote on three of the most qualified female attorneys in this country?” When I say Pillard is a moderate, I’m talking about the fact that she worked twice in the administration of President Bill Clinton — at the solicitor general's office, which handles Supreme Court cases, and later in the Justice Department.

Democratic White Houses in the last 30 years, and democratic DOJs, in my experience, don’t hire anything but moderates or moderate liberals. Republican administrations, by contrast, tend to hire people far more on the right wing side of the spectrum than democrats hire on the left. For whatever reason, that is the reality. Yes, Professor Pillard supports a woman’s right to choose, a position held by the majority of Americans, but it doesn’t make her a radical of any description. She is utterly moderate in every way.

Nina also worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court.  How many lawyers can say they even argued one case before the Supreme Court? And several were cases in support of consumer’s access to the courts. Senator Dick Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Leahy, the chair are now saying the time has come to change the rules, perhaps requiring only a majority vote for confirmation. That has its pitfalls for the Democrats if they were to lose the Senate.

In the meantime, there are 18 vacancies in the US Courts of Appeals nationally and 74 vacancies in US District Courts that need to be filled. Holding up nominees for no good reason – they are all highly qualified and all are moderates who embody the President’s vision – could cause a showdown in the coming weeks. I hope the minority in the Senate comes to its senses and approves these qualified candidates.