Robert L. Wilkins

Robert L. Wilkins

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans on Monday blocked the nomination of Robert L. Wilkins, a District Court judge in Washington, from filling one of three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Wilkins is the third straight nominee to the powerful court Republicans have stopped from being seated.

The Senate voted 53-38 in favor of ending Republican-led delays, falling short of the 60 votes required to advance Wilkins’ nomination. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine voted with Democrats to end debate.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is often referred to as the second most powerful court in the country, after the Supreme Court. Informally known as the D.C. circuit, the court’s influence stems from its caseload — it rules on administration orders and regulations — and because some of its judges become Supreme Court justices. The D.C. circuit currently has eight active judges evenly divided between Democratic and Republican nominees.

Blocking Wilkins’ nomination will likely intensify partisan tensions in the Senate, where Democrats have grown frustrated by GOP efforts to stop Obama’s nominees and talked about rewriting Senate rules to make it harder for the chamber’s minority to block nominations.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said blocking nominees like Wilkins could inspire Democrats to consider limiting debate on Obama’s nominations.

“This kind of delay for the sake of delay, this kind of treating this president different from other presidents, that is why there’s momentum toward a change in our rules,” Leahy said.

In late October, Republicans blocked attorney Patricia Millet’ nomination to fill a vacancy on the D.C. circuit court and earlier this month, the GOP blocked Georgetown law professor Cornelia Pillard from filling another vacancy on the court.

Seating judges to the D.C. circuit has proven particularly problematic for Obama. Republicans blocked his first nominee to the court, Caitlin Halligan, who eventually withdrew her nomination. Sri Srinivasan was confirmed to the court earlier this year, but Republicans vowed to block any further nominees to the court, saying it had too light a caseload.

Obama responded in June by nominating Millet, Pillard and Wilkins.

Republicans accused Democrats of wasting the Senate’s time.

“The fact of the matter is that the D.C. circuit is underworked,” said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee.


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