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Wilkins Nomination Sparks Hope of Quick Confirmation

Barrington M. Salmon | 6/12/2013, 3 p.m.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins (Courtesy Photo)

There has been universal praise in the African American and legal communities following the nomination of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

And given what has been described as Wilkins’ sterling qualifications and impeccable legal credentials, the hope is that he will be confirmed without delay by the U.S. Senate.

On June 4, President Barack Obama presented Wilkins, Georgetown University Law Professor Cornelia “Nina” T. Pillard and noted Appellate Attorney Patricia Millett to fill three vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Circuit. This court is considered by many to be the second most important in the country because of what People For the American Way describes as its “unique influence over the shape of our nation’s laws, determining the meaning and even the constitutionality of federal legislation and regulation across a broad spectrum of issues: national security, campaign finance, voting rights, workers’ rights, consumer rights, environment and energy policy, telecommunications and more.” People For the American Way is a District-based progressive research and advocacy organization located in Northwest.

Despite the divisive political environment, on analyst said, he expects Wilkins to be confirmed.

“I think his chances are very good,” said Wilmer Leon, Ph.D., a teaching associate at Howard University and a nationally syndicated columnist. “The nominees that a president is able to get confirmed – whether on the Circuit Court or higher courts – will be one of the most lasting impacts a president can have. Long after a president has left office, those judges will continue to have an impact on judicial decisions and political policy. On the Supreme Court, for example, the presidents who chose Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are long since gone.”

But some like Avis Jones-DeWeever, David Bositis and others aren’t as optimistic.

“I am very happy to see that he received this nomination. Judge Wilkins is eminently qualified,” said Jones-DeWeever, who hosts Focus Point, a nationally syndicated program on National Public Radio and who recently opened a consulting firm. “He clearly has a broad sense of justice in the American sense. Unfortunately, the opposing party has been bent on obstruction, especially with the courts.”

“It’s been stall, delay, stall and run out the clock.”

Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Northwest, agreed.

“It appears that the White House and the Democratic leadership are starting to put pressure on Republicans for these nominations,” he said. “The fact that the president put forward three nominees is a signal that they’ll put more pressure on the GOP, including using the nuclear option. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says you need 60 votes for judges, which means that 60 votes is just the Senate rules … it’s politics. Republicans are trying to keep as many Democratic appointees off the court as possible.”

Republican senators, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have continued their first-term strategy of blocking Obama’s progress at every turn. In recent months, the Senate Republicans delayed votes on the president’s nominees for the U.S. Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency; killed Susan Rice’s nomination to be Secretary of State; delayed the nominations of Chuck Hagel to become Secretary of Defense and filibustered John Brennan’s nomination while also delaying the nomination of Jacob Lew, who Obama nominated treasury secretary.