Remember when Rep. Tom Cotton ludicrously said
that President Barack Obama
was "court packing" by fulfilling his constitutional obligation to nominate judges to fill vacancies on the federal bench, in this case the three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
? Cotton proposed a bill
that would have actually been court-packing in reverse, reducing the number of seats on the D.C. Circuit because he didn't like the idea of Obama appointments to the powerful court. Cotton's bill to change the size of the court went nowhere, but in practice, the result has been the same. Republicans have used the filibuster to block all nominations to fill the vacancies, leaving the court with just eight judges.
The nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States
, led by Chief Justice John Roberts
, argued to the Senate Judiciary Committee last spring
that the D.C. Circuit should have its full roster of 11 judges. But Republicans aren't budging and we're stuck with the odd rule that if a Democrat is president, vacancies on important courts should go unfilled (we should note, though Republicans have taken the practice to epic heights during the Obama administration, Dems have been guilty of filibuster shenanigans in the past).
The whole thing appears to be coming to a head
as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
prepares to employ the so-called "nuclear option." “Going nuclear” has always been a terrible nickname for what Reid is actually considering: changing the Senate rules so that executive and judicial nominations (other than the Supreme Court) can be approved by simply majority. Nothing would explode if the Senate made this change, but the government would operate more smoothly.
for more on the long history of this fight, including back when it was the Republicans threatening to go "nuclear," and the new extremes in obstruction we've reached today.