U.S. Senate Fills Court Seat Over Republican Objections

The U.S. Senate confirmed Washington lawyer Patricia Millett to a seat on a federal appeals court that handles some of the nation’s biggest business cases.

The vote was 56-38.

Millett’s confirmation was opposed by most Republicans who argued that the caseload of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit isn’t sufficient to justify filling its open seats. Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted to confirm Millett.

That court often rules on challenges to regulations from such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Communications Commission.

Later in the day, the Senate voted 56-42 to advance the nomination of Georgetown University law professor Nina Pillard to the same court. The chamber could hold her confirmation vote as early as tomorrow.

President Barack Obama, in a statement, said he was pleased with the vote on Millett, 50, who was once a Supreme Court advocate at the Justice Department.

“Ms. Millett is a leading appellate lawyer who has made 32 arguments before the Supreme Court, the second-most by a female advocate,” he said. “She has served in the Department of Justice for both Democratic and Republican Presidents. I’m confident she will serve with distinction on the federal bench.”

Millett was the first nominee confirmed since Senate Democrats changed the rules for cutting off debate on some nominations.

Simple Majority

As a result, the Senate needed a simple majority rather than a 60-vote supermajority to move to final action on Millett’s nomination.

Republicans had used procedural votes to block action on Millett, Pillard and another nominee to the D.C. Circuit, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has signaled he planned to seek confirmation of all three nominee under the changed rules.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont praised Millett as “an extraordinary nominee with impeccable credentials for this important appellate court.”

He said the complexity of the cases before that court justified filling its vacancies.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, had said that when Obama fills those three seats, “you’ll have a rubber stamp for his anti-business regulations.”

Reid has said that putting Obama’s team in place is a priority. Yesterday, he set the stage for votes on 10 nominees, including Jeh Johnson to be Homeland Security secretary.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo5@bloomberg.net

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