Federal court nominations, which are made for life, represent an important part of a president’s legacy. And by moving three names at once, the president is signaling that he’s ready to use political capital on the matter. Critics of the president accused him of moving now to create a distraction from the troubles plaguing various federal agencies and departments, including the Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department.
As expected, the president nominated a diverse trio of respected legal figures to the D.C. Circuit:
Patricia Ann Millett runs the Supreme Court practice at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C., and has argued 32 cases before the US Supreme Court – until recently, Obama said, a record for a female lawyer. She also served nine years, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, as an assistant to the solicitor general at the Justice Department.
Cornelia “Nina” T.L. Pillard is a law professor at Georgetown University in Washington. She has served twice in the Justice Department and was an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Obama cited as “landmark successes” her defense before the Supreme Court of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the opening of the Virginia Military Institute to female students.
Robert Leon Wilkins, who is African-American, is a judge on the federal D.C. District Court, confirmed without opposition in 2010. Before that, Judge Wilkins spent eight years in private practice, and a decade as a public defender in Washington, D.C.
One aspect of his nominees that shows no diversity is their common legal alma mater. Like Obama, they are all graduates of Harvard Law School.