The nomination of Cornelia T.L. Pillard, a Georgetown law professor President Obama named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, fell short of the necessary 60-vote threshold, The New York Times reported.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Democrats accused Republicans of blocking a qualified woman for political purposes, while Republicans countered that Democrats were searching for a wedge issue. Republicans said their opposition was based on the court's caseload, not their concerns about her views on social issues.
Beyond the debate, the fight over Pillard's nomination likely will escalate and lead to a change to the Senate rules that would limit the minority party's ability to filibuster judicial nominees, the Times said.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, warned Republicans they were egging the chamber closer to action on filibuster changes.
"There reaches a point where we can't allow this type of injustice to occur," Durbin said.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said changing the rules could come back to bite Democrats if they should lose the majority, the Times said.
"Go ahead," Grassley said. "There are a lot more [Antonin] Scalias and [Clarence] Thomases that we'd love to put on" the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nomination of another judge to the D.C. appeals court could reach the floor soon. Robert L. Wilkins, a District of Columbia federal court judge, already cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a floor vote.
Republicans haven't shown a willingness to approve him, the Times said.
Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he believed Senate filibuster rules must be changed because Republicans were holding Obama's nominees to such "a blatant double standard."
"Their credibility is shredded," Leahy said.