The most important Senate committee vote Thursday on a top-tier White House nomination was neither the party-line ballot advancing Thomas E. Perez one step away from becoming Labor secretary, nor the parallel 10-8 vote advancing the choice of Gina McCarthy as EPA chief to the Senate floor.
The day’s most consequential roll call was at Senate Judiciary, where all eight Republicans joined the 10 Democrats in endorsing Sri Srinivasan for a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Such unanimity is an extraordinary and unmistakable sign that GOP conservatives are making a tactical retreat in the judicial wars — one that may influence the filling of a future seat on the Supreme Court.
Even as those Republicans contemplate filibusters designed to stop Perez or McCarthy from taking seats in the president’s Cabinet — where they could shape policy for three and a half years at most — they’re preparing to concede their side’s clear ideological advantage at the country’s second-most-important federal courthouse. And they look ready confirm someone who might hold sway over social and regulatory policy for three decades or more.
A lopsided confirmation vote by the full Senate, which now looks inevitable and could come within a month, would boost the odds that President Barack Obama turns to Srinivasan should a vacancy on the top court come open in the next three years. (Are you listening, Justice Ginsburg?) Four of the current high-court justices stepped up from the D.C. Circuit, which has unusual influence over federal policy because it hears constitutional appeals of most decisions involving government agencies and departments based in the capital.