A combative President Obama declared open warfare Tuesday on Senate Republicans over judicial nominations, naming three candidates to the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and blasting GOP lawmakers for delaying and blocking previous nominees.
The new nominations come at a time when the system envisioned by the founders is being tested from all sides.
Federal courts have moved to curtail Mr. Obama’s recess appointment powers, even as Senate Republicans flex their filibuster powers and Democrats consider using the so-called nuclear option to change the rules and end the GOP’s ability to filibuster nominees altogether.
After weeks of growing pressure, the president moved Tuesday to force the issue, daring Republicans to block three people with long and distinguished legal careers.
“This is not about principled opposition; this is about political obstruction,” Mr. Obama said. “What’s happening now is unprecedented. For the good of the American people, it has to stop.”
Nominations have grown increasingly contentious, with Democrats last decade launching the first partisan filibusters of appellate court nominees, and Republicans using the same tactic against two of Mr. Obama’s picks — including one for the D.C. Circuit panel.
But a report last month by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service showed a more complex picture: Mr. Bush’s circuit court nominees who were confirmed during his first term waited an average of 277 days, while Mr. Obama’s nominees averaged 240 days. But Mr. Bush’s district court nominees waited an average of 156 days from nomination to confirmation, while Mr. Obama’s waited 221 days.
Most recently, the Senate confirmed Sri Srinivasan, the administration’s principal deputy solicitor general, to a seat on the D.C. Circuit, giving the court four Democratic appointees and four Republican appointees.
Mr. Obama’s three nominees would give the court seven Democratic appointees and four Republicans.
The D.C. Circuit court has six “senior” judges, five of whom are Republican appointees, and the court has rejected some of the president’s agenda.
One panel last year struck down a move by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate air pollution across state lines. Another panel ruled in January that Mr. Obama exceeded his powers when he made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
The Supreme Court is slated to meet later this month to decide whether to hear the administration’s appeal of the NLRB case.
The Senate had been meeting every three days in pro forma sessions specifically to deny Mr. Obama the ability to use his recess powers, but the president argued that since the entire Senate wasn’t in town, it was “unavailable” to do business, which was the same as a recess.
If the courts were to curtail Mr. Obama’s recess powers, that could give the Senate’s minority party even more leverage in nomination fights. Facing that prospect, Democrats, who control the chamber, have started talking once again about changing the rules to eliminate filibusters of nominees.