WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to confirm the nomination of a Cape Elizabeth attorney for the federal bench, more than one year after he was nominated by President Barack Obama.

William Kayatta, who works at a Portland law firm, had strong support from Maine’s congressional delegation as well as from the American Bar Association to fill a vacancy on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. But Kayatta’s nomination, as well as others up for federal judgeships, was held up by Senate Republicans due to a rule often invoked in presidential election years.

The Senate voted 88-12 on Wednesday afternoon in a sign that the freeze on judicial nominees is thawing.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins as well as former Sen. Olympia Snowe — both Republicans — had urged their Republican colleagues to stop blocking Kayatta’s nomination last year given his strong support and the strain placed on the court. But Republicans continued to oppose allowing Circuit Court nominees to come up for a vote prior to the presidential election in hopes that a victory by Republican Mitt Romney would allow him to select his own nominee.

With six full-time judges, the 1st Circuit is the smallest circuit court. One step below the U.S. Supreme Court, it is the last resort for most appeals from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island. Kayatta was nominated to replace Judge Kermit Lipez, also of Maine.

“Mr. Kayatta’s impressive background makes him eminently qualified for a seat on the 1st Circuit,” Collins said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “His 30-plus years of real-world litigation experience would bring a valuable perspective to the court.”

“While this vote took too long to happen, we’re pleased the Senate has approved the nomination of Bill Kayatta for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals,” said U.S. Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats, said in a joint statement. “He is highly qualified and will serve our country with integrity.”

Kayatta, a partner at Pierce Atwood LLP in Portland, is a South Portland native who received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1979.

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