12.10.13

Senate Moves Closer To Filling Vacancies On D.C. Circuit

Pillard Poised To Be Confirmed To 10th Seat

WASHINGTON – The Senate moved closer Tuesday to confirming Nina Pillard to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals after voting to overcome a filibuster of her nomination.

Republicans last month blocked the Senate from debating Pillard’s nomination, but recent changes to Senate rules have now enabled the chamber to overcome such obstruction. As a result, Pillard is poised to be confirmed to what is often referred to as the nation’s second most important court behind the Supreme Court.

“The D.C. Circuit is often considered to be the second most important court in the Nation and should be operating at full strength,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)  said in a statement.  “Today we will take a step toward making this Court operate at full strength for the American people.”   

Pillard has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and briefed dozens more before the Supreme Court and other Federal appellate courts. The procedural vote tonight on her nomination comes the same day the Senate confirmed Patricia Millett to serve on the D.C. Circuit. If confirmed, Pillard would become the fifth active female judge currently serving on the D.C. Circuit, an historic milestone that Leahy said would “break yet another barrier and move in the historic direction of having our Federal appellate courts more accurately reflect the gender balance of the country.” 

“Never before have five women jurists actively served on this court at one time,” Leahy said.  “I look forward to that moment and to further increasing the diversity of our federal bench.” 

 

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Nomination of Cornelia “Nina” Pillard
December 10, 2013

Today, for the second time in a month, we are debating whether to allow a confirmation vote on the nomination of Nina Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  This morning, we were finally able to vote on the nomination of Patricia Millett after many months of being filibustered by Senate Republicans. I am glad we are making more progress now on another exceptional nominee. 

The D.C. Circuit is often considered to be the second most important court in the Nation and should be operating at full strength.  Today we will take another step towards making this Court operate at full strength for the American people.   

In late November, a bipartisan majority of Senators voted in favor of moving to an up-or-down vote on Nina Pillard’s nomination, but we fell short by three votes.  The same efforts to remove the Republican blockade of this President’s nominees to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit that allowed the Senate to confirm Patricia Millett this morning will similarly allow the Senate to move forward on Nina Pillard’s nomination so she can be confirmed and get to work for the American people.

Nina Pillard is an accomplished litigator whose work includes nine Supreme Court oral arguments, and briefs in more than 25 Supreme Court cases.  She drafted the Federal government’s brief in United States v. Virginia, which after a 7-1 decision by the Supreme Court made history by opening the Virginia Military Institute’s doors to female students and expanded educational opportunity for women across the country.  Since then, hundreds of women have had the opportunity to attend VMI and go on to serve our country. 

Ms. Pillard has not only stood up for equal opportunities for women, but for men as well.  In Nevada v. Hibbs, Ms. Pillard successfully represented a male employee of the state of Nevada who was fired when he tried to take unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act to care for his sick wife.  In a 6-3 opinion authored by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Supreme Court ruled for her client, recognizing that the law protects both men and women in their caregiving roles within the family.

She has also worked at the Department of Justice as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel, an office that advises on the most complex constitutional issues facing the Executive Branch.  And prior to that, Ms. Pillard litigated numerous civil rights cases as an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.  At Georgetown Law, Ms. Pillard teaches advanced courses on constitutional law and civil procedure, and co-directs the law school’s Supreme Court Institute. 

She has earned the American Bar Association’s highest possible ranking – Unanimously Well Qualified – to serve as a Federal appellate judge on the D.C. Circuit.  She also has significant bipartisan support.  Viet Dinh, the former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy under President George W. Bush, has written that:  “Based on our long and varied professional experience together, I know that Professor Pillard is exceptionally bright, a patient and unbiased listener, and a lawyer of great judgment and unquestioned integrity…  Nina has always been fair, reasonable, and sensible in her judgments… She is a fair-minded thinker with enormous respect for the law and for the limited, and essential, role of the federal appellate judge – qualities that make her well prepared to take on the work of a D.C. Federal Judge.”

Former FBI Director and Chief Judge of the Western District of Texas William Sessions has written that her “rare combination of experience, both defending and advising government officials, and representing individuals seeking to vindicate their rights, would be especially valuable in informing her responsibilities as a judge.”

Nina Pillard has also received letters of support from 30 former members of the U.S. armed forces, including 8 retired generals; 25 former Federal prosecutors and other law enforcement officials; 40 Supreme Court practitioners, including Laurence Tribe and Carter Phillips, among many others. 

Despite having filled nearly half of law school classrooms for the last 20 years, women are grossly underrepresented on our Federal courts.  We need women on the Federal bench.  A vote to end this filibuster is a vote to break yet another barrier and move in the historic direction of having our Federal appellate courts more accurately reflect the gender balance of the country. 

I commend President Obama on his nominations of highly qualified women like Nina Pillard, Patricia Millett, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.  In each of these women, the Senate has had the opportunity to vote to confirm women practicing at the pinnacle of the legal profession.  Once the Senate confirmed Justice Kagan, the highest court in the land had more women than ever before serving on its bench.  With the confirmation and appointment of Nina Pillard, the same will be true for what many consider to be the second highest court in the land, the D.C. Circuit because she will be the fifth active female judge on the court.  Never before have five women jurists actively served on that court at one time.  I look forward to that moment and to further increasing the diversity of our federal bench. 

I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of ending the filibuster on this outstanding nominee.  This Nation would be better off for Nina Pillard serving as a judge on the D.C. Circuit.

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