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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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November 19th, 2013
04:46 PM ET

Why one GOP senator is blocking Obama's court nominations

For the third time in as many weeks, Senate Republicans have blocked an Obama nominee to the D.C. District Appeals Court, considered the second most powerful court in the country.

It appears Republicans want to maintain the current balance on the court – four judges appointed by a Democrat, and four judges appointed by a Republican. The Democrats view the move as unfair, though they filibustered several of former President George W. Bush's nominees to circuit courts in the early 2000s.

For Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, "this isn't a new crusade." Since the 1990s, the Iowa senator has been conducting studies on work loads of the various circuits, and made changes based on those studies.

Grassley said he wants to eliminate the 12th seat on the D.C. District Appeals Court, because after reviewing cases filed and cases determined, he concluded the court "is the most under worked circuit of the 12 circuits that we have in this country."

Chief Justice John Roberts disagrees with leaving seats unfilled, but Grassley said Roberts's opinion is outweighed by those of justices on the 12th circuit.

"We have letters from judges on that very court that said we don't need any more judges, or there wouldn't be enough cases to go around," said Grassley, who adds that the U.S. saves $1 million each year for every empty seat.

Grassley said he did the same thing under former President George W. Bush, blocking nominees to the 12th seat. But the Republican senator did – in the past – vote to fill the 9th, 10th, and 11th slots on the court.

"At that particular time, the case load was a little higher than it is right now," said Grassley. The senator said he is introducing a bill to eliminate three seats on the court, and reassign two of those seats to circuits with heavier case loads.

"Then President Obama can have the privilege of appointing judges there, so we're not denying him the right to appoint judges, it's just where he appoints them," said Grassley.

"This obstruction is completely unprecedented," President Barack Obama said in a statement Monday. "When it comes to judicial nominations, I am fulfilling my constitutional responsibility, but Congress is not. Instead, Senate Republicans are standing in the way of a fully-functioning judiciary that serves the American people."

Grassely said when it comes to Congress doing its job with confirmations, Obama has nothing to complain about, because they have approved 208 of Obama's judicial appointments, and denied four.

"That would be about a 99% approval rating, so I think he has done very well," said Grassley.

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