Susan Collins’ D.C. Circuit Hypocrisy

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins signed on today as a cosponsor of a blatantly political bill meant to deny President Obama, unlike any of his predecessors, the ability to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  

The D.C. Circuit is the second most influential court in the country, behind the Supreme Court. It has the final word on scores of federal laws and regulations, from consumer protections to workers’ rights to environmental protections

For more than 30 years, presidents of both parties have placed numerous judges on the D.C. Circuit:

Senate Republicans prevented President Obama from placing a single nominee on the court during his first term and the first four months of his second, despite the fact that one-third of its active judgeships were vacant. They were so eager to keep the court dominated by Republican-nominated judges that they twice filibustered President Obama’s first nominee to the court, the eminently qualified Caitlin Halligan. Yesterday, after a ten-month delay, the Senate finally confirmed an Obama nominee, Sri Srinivasan, to fill one of the court’s four vacancies. But Republicans are indicating that their cooperation will stop there.

Senate Republicans are not only vowing to block any Obama nominees to the remaining three seats on the D.C. Circuit, they are actually proposing a bill that would eliminate those three seats entirely in order to prevent President Obama from filling them. 

The bill, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley and cosponsored by every other Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, just gained its first non-committee cosponsor: Sen. Collins.

The bill’s backers claim that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t have a great enough workload to justify filling the remaining three judgeships. However, Sen. Collins’ own voting record provides a perfect refutation of that argument.

Sen. Collins and her allies object to Obama’s filling the 9th, 10th and 11th seats on the D.C. Circuit. However, when George W. Bush was president, Sen. Collins had no such reservations about the need to fill the court's vacancies. In 2006, Collins voted to confirm Bush nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the 10th seat on the D.C. Circuit. In 2005, she voted to confirm Bush nominees Janice Rogers Brown to the 10th seat on the court and Thomas Griffith to the 11th.

Following the Griffith confirmation, which Collins supported,  the D.C. Circuit’s caseload was 119 cases per active judge. If every one of the D.C. Circuit’s 11 seats were filled today --  including the three seats that Sen. Collins wants to eliminate – the court’s caseload would be slightly higher than it was then, at 120 cases per active judge. Sen. Collins evidently thinks that what was a reasonable caseload for the court under President Bush is  somehow wastefully low under President Obama.

Meanwhile, here is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse refuting Sen. Grassley’s absurd claim that President Obama is trying to “pack” the D.C. Circuit by filling its vacancies:

PFAW