Early Tuesday, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Patricia Millett to the D.C. Circuit Court, a nomination that Republicans had been obstructing for weeks. In fact, they haven't just obstructed Millett's nomination, but also Nina Pillard's and Robert Wilkins', the additional two appointments to this court the president has sought. Republicans weren't opposing these three because they had issues with their qualifications, or their suitability to serve on this critical court. They had an issue with Obama's nominees filling three vacancies. That's why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went nuclear, and why Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the judiciary committee, changed his position on using the nuclear option and helped Reid make it happen.
The Senate will probably vote on both Pillard's and Wilkins' nominations this week, certainly before it recesses next week. Getting these three new judges confirmed is critical, because the D.C. Circuit is such an important court, below only the Supreme Court in the import of what it decides. But that's a drop in the bucket of judicial vacancies, and there's still going to be plenty of ways for Republicans to continue to obstruct.
In addition to GOP senators simply not making recommendations for nominees to fill court vacancies in their home states, The Huffington Post has counted at least 13 nominees currently stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee because of nine Republicans (and one Democrat) refusing to put forward "blue slips," or a tradition in the committee that allows senators to advance or block judicial nominees from their home state.Thus far, Leahy hasn't updated his statement from right after the Senate voted to change filibuster rules. At the time he said, "I assume no one will abuse the blue slip process like some have abused the use of the filibuster to block judicial nominees on the floor of the Senate. As long as the blue slip process is not being abused by home-state senators, then I will see no reason to change that tradition.”
Many of the stalled nominees hail from Arizona, with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) being the top offender in not submitting blue slips. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is refusing to submit a blue slip for his own nominee, William Thomas, who would be the first openly gay black male federal judge if confirmed. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is withholding a blue slip for another key nominee, Jennifer May-Parker, who would fill the longest standing district court vacancy in the country.
The abuse is happening right now, in his committee. What's more, the White House is using blue slips as a reason for not putting forward nominees for the myriad vacancies that have persisted throughout his presidency. Leahy can change this process quite easily; it's entirely within his discretion as committee chair to dispense with the blue-slip tradition. There's also very recent precedence—Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) did it when he chaired the committee during the Bush administration. Leahy needs to change the rule so that the 13 stalled nominees get their hearing, and President Obama doesn't have an excuse to avoid filling the all vacancies that persist in the federal judiciary.