And so it begins. President Obama has made three simultaneous nominations for vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. One of the seats has been vacant since September 2005, when John Roberts was elevated to the Supreme Court. The Republicans claim that the DC Circuit is already adequately staffed and doesn’t need any new judges. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has even introduced a bill to remove one of its seats and move two others to different circuits. This is a naked attempt to maintain Republican parity on the court which just recently got to a 4-4 split of Republican and Democratic nominees when Sri Srinivasan was confirmed. Mr. Srinivasan is the first Obama nominee that the Republicans have allowed to join the DC Circuit in his entire presidency.

I wrote earlier about Harry Reid’s strategy for breaking the opposition to the president’s nominees. It begins with these three judges, who were all carefully chosen to be non-controversial and well-qualified. If the Republicans block a vote on them, Reid is going to use it as an excuse to change the filibuster rule as it applies to the advise and consent role that the Constitution gives the Senate. This will not only allow these three judges to be confirmed, but many more. And it will allow the swift confirmation of the rest of Obama’s cabinet and subcabinet.

The Republicans are in a tough spot. They may be able to forestall such a drastic move by making some kind of deal, but that will never happen if they simply continue to insist that the DC District doesn’t need any more judges so the president doesn’t have any right to have a vote on his nominees. There are still enough Democratic senators who don’t want to change the filibuster rule to make a deal possible, but they are waiting to see how these judges are treated. If they are blocked, Reid will have all the evidence he needs to persuade the few remaining doubters.

Reid doesn’t have any credibility on this issue, having made so many previous threats without following through. But he’s never had enough support in his caucus to change the rules before now. At this point it is clear. If these judges don’t get a vote, they will change the rules so that they can get a vote.

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