Can Judge Pillard become Justice Pillard?

December 12th, 2013

Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress heralds that recently-confirmed D.C. Circuit Judge Nina Pillard may be the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a post titled “Meet The Next Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Senate Confirms Top Women’s Rights Attorney To Federal Bench.”

With her confirmation to the second highest court in the nation very early Thursday morning, Judge Nina Pillard should immediately rocket to the top of the Democratic shortlist of potential nominees to the Supreme Court. Though there are a number of Democraticjudges who possess the youth, brilliance and legal credentials required from a new Supreme Court justice, Pillard brings something to the bench that is quite rare among judges — she’s won two of the most important civil rights victories to reach the Supreme Court during her career. …

Indeed, it likely that there is only one other judge currently on the bench who accomplished as much as a litigator for women’s rights as Judge Pillard did in her career as an attorney —Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ian thinks that the abolition of the filibuster paves the way for liberal judges to be promoted to the Supreme Court.

Yet, while judges like Pillard and Ginsburg are rare right now, they don’t have to be much longer now that the filibuster no longer gives the Senate minority a veto power over judicial nominees. Nor is there a shortage of eminent attorneys — Pam KarlanPaul SmithDebo Adegbile — who have fought and often won major victories for gay rights, voting rights, racial justice and other important civil rights. The tragedy of Pillard and Ginsburg is that there does not need to be so few of them.

Ed Whelan, who counts the relatively tight vote for Pillard, suggests that she (and likely others) would have a really tough time making it to the Supreme Court.

Some things are most fittingly done in the dark of night. Not long after midnight, the Senate, by a 51-44 vote, confirmed President Obama’s nomination of hard-left law professor Cornelia Pillard to the D.C. Circuit. The confirmation, which was foreordained by Senate Democrats’ abolition of the filibuster, is bad news for the D.C. Circuit and for the country. But allow me to discern a silver lining or two.

For starters, three Senate Democrats—Pryor (Arkansas), Manchin (West Virginia), and Donnelly (Indiana)—voted against the Pillard nomination, and not a single Republican voted for it. (Four Republicans evidently weren’t present to vote, or the total against presumably would have been 48.)

Any ambitions that Pillard might have had to use the D.C. Circuit as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court have also been dealt a severe blow.

The political process does work here. The fact that vulnerable Democrats voted against Pillard for a court of appeals seat is striking. I mean, how many voters in Arkansas, West Virginia, or Indiana, know or care what the D.C. Circuit is. But, the Senators calculated that this vote could hurt them.

That calculus is amplified times a million for the Supreme Court. If the President nominates a judge who is deemed too liberal for moderate Democrats, it will be much tougher to get the votes. Plus, even under Harry Reid’s new precedent, you still have a filibuster for the Supreme Court. In any event, it looks like the GOP may take the senate in 2014.

These judges can’t let their sails fly, yet.