Senate Confirms Robert Wilkins Nomination, Filling Final Vacancy on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

With the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals fight over for now, focus shifts to other key vacancies.

President Barack Obama delivers a statement announcing the nomination of Robert Leon Wilkins, Cornelia "Nina" Pillard, and Patricia Ann Millett this past June. Wikipedia

The Senate voted 55 to 43 along party lines Monday to confirm Judge Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Wilkins was one of three nominees blocked for months by Senate Republicans and whose confirmation was possible only after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Democrats voted to change Senate rules to prevent the filibuster of most judicial nominees and agency appointments. Wilkins, who has been a trial judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2010, joins fellow nominees Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard, who were confirmed late last year shortly after the rule change. Another nominee, Caitlin Halligan, withdrew her nomination after anti-choice activists and the National Rifle Association joined forces to block her nomination.

“Now that the D.C. Circuit’s seats are full, it can get on with its important work for the American people,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, in a statement. “And just as importantly, if the Senate can put petty partisan fights behind it, it can get on with doing the American people’s work as well, including filling the other long-vacant federal court seats across the country.”

Wilkins is the fourth of President Obama’s judicial nominees to be confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. His confirmation brings to a close, for now, the fight over the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and fills all of the judicial vacancies in a jurisdiction Republicans had focused on in efforts to retain influence and control in the direction of the federal judiciary. The court hears some of the most complicated regulatory challenges in the nation. Those decisions, like one Tuesday blocking the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules or an earlier one blocking enforcement of the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, have national implications.

Wilkins’ confirmation shifts the balance of active judges on the nation’s second most important court from an even split of four Republican and four Democratic appointees to a 7-4 advantage for Democrats.