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The GOP, a Critical Court, and the Politics of Brinksmanship

Update: On November 12, 2013, Senate Republicans blocked an up-or-down vote on Professor Nina Pillard’s nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Once again, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were the only Republicans to oppose the filibuster. Professor Pillard is the third of President Obama’s D.C. Circuit nominees to be denied a vote in the Senate. Read Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen’s statement on the Senate Republicans’ continued obstruction.

There seemed reason to hope the fever would pass.

Six weeks ago, as October awoke, the my-way-or-your-kneecaps wing of the Grand Old Party decided it was time things got broken. The festivities began, of course, with the federal government, which was left bound and gagged by a long-dreamt shutdown. Then came the threats of global economic ruin. While those wielding bats talked principle, it soon proved pique. “We’re not going to be disrespected,” a House Republican proclaimed on the second day of the insurrection. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Americans weren’t amused. When the dust finally settled, 59 percent of those surveyed held an “unfavorable impression” of “the political movement known as the tea party.” Sixty-three percent declared dislike for the Republican Party. And 75 percent—three of every four Americans—expressed dissatisfaction “with the way this country’s political system is working.”

This should have been enough. The GOP gave brinksmanship a go—a real college try. America wishes it hadn’t. Now’d seem a moment for action—for governance. For a barbeque, even. As you’ve come to expect, though, we’re not there yet; the Republican Party is digging in.

On Halloween, all but two Senate Republicans filibustered the first of President Obama’s three pending nominations to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The problem, they made clear, wasn’t the nominee—Patricia Millett. It’s the President.

The Senate’s obstructionists, to be sure, haven’t confessed this motivation. Instead, they’ve insisted—again, and again, and again, and again—that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need any more judges. That three of the court’s eleven seats are best left empty. As we’ve already explained, however, this isn’t right—a fact readily acknowledged by Senate Republicans during the previous administration. When President George W. Bush was doing the nominating, Republican senators were unanimous in their support for filling the D.C. Circuit’s ninth, tenth, and eleventh seats—the same seats they’re blocking now.

It’s time for the brinksmanship to end. This week, Senate Republicans will be asked to allow an up-or-down vote on the second of President Obama’s current nominees—Professor Nina Pillard. They should follow the lead of their two colleagues—Senators Collins and Murkowski—who rightly opposed the filibuster of Millett. If they don't, the chamber’s Democrats may have little choice but to change the rules.