John Owens, Munger, Tolles & Olson
John Owens, Munger, Tolles & Olson ()

SAN FRANCISCO — With the last of three D.C. Circuit nominees confirmed Monday, President Barack Obama’s most recent picks for the Ninth Circuit and the Northern District could take a step closer to the bench this week.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold votes on 29 judicial nominations Thursday—including Michelle Friedland and John Owens to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and James Donato, Beth Labson Freeman and Vince Chhabria to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“Based on the input I’ve received, we fully expect all of the nominees, including Owens and Friedland, to be voted out of committee on the 16th,” said Vincent Eng, a lobbyist at Washington’s The Veng Group who works on behalf of judicial nominees.

No vote can be taken for granted in a post-nuclear-option world, where Republican senators are still seething about the loss of filibuster privileges. University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who watches judicial nominations closely, said he expects Thursday’s committee vote to proceed, though it’s possible GOP senators could withhold a quorum by refusing to appear.

Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee, appeared very unhappy during Monday’s floor debate on D.C. Circuit nominee Robert Wilkins, Tobias said, “so it still seems volatile.”

The Judiciary Committee already gave its stamp of approval to the three Northern District nominees in 2013, all with bipartisan support. But their nominations expired at the end of the year after Republican senators balked at a Dec. 20 floor vote. The committee hasn’t voted on Friedland and Owens yet, though no strenuous opposition was raised at their committee hearings last summer.

How nominations like theirs might play out once they clear committee is still a question on a lot of minds. While a formal filibuster is off the table, Senate Republicans could still make it difficult to find time for floor votes if they are inclined to block nominations.

Said Eng: “While I hope confirmations will be quick and there is definitely no reason to delay bipartisan-supported nominees, I think we are more likely to see a further slowing of confirmations.”

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