President Barack Obama on Tuesday named three judges to serve on an influential federal appeals court in Washington and urged the Senate to set aside politics and move quickly to hold confirmation votes.
"They have a constitutional duty to promptly consider judicial nominees for confirmation," he said at the White House. "Throughout my first term as president, the Senate too often failed to do that."
The president announced that he was nominating Patricia Ann Millett, Cornelia Pillard and Robert Wilkins to fill three vacancies on the 11-seat U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Millett is a Washington lawyer who regularly argues before the U.S. Supreme Court, Pillard is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and Wilkins is a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The federal appeals court rules frequently on major regulatory and other high-profile issues and is sometimes seen as a springboard to serving on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Obama criticized Republicans for "playing politics" and standing in the way of his previous nominees, and for seeking to reduce the number of seats on the court from 11 to eight.
"This is not about principled opposition, this is about political obstruction," he said.
The president has had to fight to get his nominees to the court through the confirmation process. While Obama's fellow Democrats control the Senate, Republicans can hold up confirmation votes with procedural obstacles that require a supermajority of 60 of the 100 votes to be overcome.
One previous nominee, New York lawyer Caitlin Halligan, withdrew from consideration in March after Republicans blocked votes on her confirmation to the appeals court. Last month, however, the Senate confirmed Sri Srinivasan, a political appointee in the Justice Department.
Once Srinivasan takes his seat, the appeals court will be evenly divided among four Democratic and Republican appointees. Republican lawmakers have proposed cutting the number of seats on the court, citing its reduced workload.
Obama defended his judicial nominations against the charge that he is engaged in "court-packing."
"These are open seats. And the (U.S.) Constitution demands that I find qualified individuals to fill those seats," he said.
Republican efforts to limit the number of seats on the court are also a "blatant political move," he said, saying Republicans were content to name the full roster of 11 justices in the past.