In response to the reported withdrawal of DC Circuit Court of Appeals Nominee Caitlin Halligan, People For the American Way issued the following statement.
“Caitlin Halligan’s decision to withdraw her nomination is an indictment of the continued intransigence of Senate Republicans,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “There’s no question that Halligan was totally qualified for the position. Anyone who wants to understand how Washington is broken can look at the filibuster led by Senators Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell. Not a single Senator raised concerns about Halligan’s qualifications or her character, yet Republicans wouldn’t even allow her an up-or-down vote. This is partisanship run amok.”
Halligan, who was first nominated to the DC Circuit in May of 2010, was repeatedly blocked by Republicans—including Senators Collins, McCain and Graham, members of the so-called Gang of 14 who previously spoke out against filibustering in anything but “extraordinary circumstances.”
“There’s an obvious reason why Republicans have been so committed to blocking President Obama’s nominees to this court,” said Baker. “Republican Presidents have been hugely successful in packing the DC Circuit with extraordinarily conservative judges, and they don’t want any more jurists on the bench to dilute that ideological power. The DC Circuit has dealt significant blows to working people, environmentalists, public health activists and ordinary investors. Republicans pushing a reactionary ideology are working overtime to protect the power of the DC circuit to advance their political agenda. Senators should put the best interests of the country above partisanship and bring this obstruction to a halt.”
People For the American Way recently released a report, America’s Progress At Risk: Restoring the Balance to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, laying out the impact of the right-wing majority on the nation’s second highest court.
Back in December, The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse wrote a great article explaining how the National Rifle Association has worked in concert with Republican senators to oppose many of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees – usually without anything close to a legitimate reason. The NRA’s “symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party,” Greenhouse wrote, led the group to oppose judicial nominees like Sonia Sotomayor, who had next to no record on the Second Amendment, and the party to chip in when the NRA didn’t like a nominee.
It is that symbiotic relationship that succeeded in sinking the nominations of two highly qualified women to federal courts this week. Both were unquestionably qualified and well-respected in legal circles. The NRA and the Senate GOP went after both for completely unfounded reasons.
Caitlin Halligan was President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Never mind that she had broad bipartisan support and sterling credentials. She had once represented a client, the state of New York, in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. Back when John Roberts was being considered for the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans said that judicial nominees shouldn’t be held responsible for positions they took as lawyers on behalf of clients. But no matter. Senate Republicans twice voted to filibuster her nomination – most recently on Wednesday – never even allowing her an up-or-down vote.
Then today, Nevada District Court nominee Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination over one year after she had been selected by President Obama. Her story was similar. Filling out a questionnaire in 2008, Cadish stated that under then-current law, the constitutional right to bear arms didn’t apply to individual citizens. She was correct. Two months later in a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court established for the first time that the Second Amendment does contain that right. Cadish made clear that she understood, and would follow, the new Supreme Court precedent.
But no matter. The NRA targeted Cadish and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller used a little-known Senate practice to keep her from ever even getting the chance to explain her views in front of the Judiciary Committee. Under committee procedures used by Chairman Patrick Leahy as a courtesy to his colleagues, a nominee is not granted a hearing unless both of her home-state senators give permission in the form of a “blue slip.” Heller simply refused to sign the blue slip for Cadish, thus single-handedly sinking her nomination.
The flimsiness of the arguments against Cadish and Halligan, and the fact that much of the opposition took place behind the scenes (in the case of Cadish without even a public hearing), betrays the real reason the NRA and the GOP were working to keep these women off the federal bench. They just don’t want President Obama to be nominating federal judges.
WASHINGTON – Today, Nevada judge Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination to sit on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, more than one year after President Obama first nominated her to the position. Despite her sterling qualifications, Cadish was never even granted a hearing before the Judiciary Committee because Nevada Sen. Dean Heller refused to give permission for her nomination to move forward.
Earlier this week, the nomination of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Caitlin Halligan was blocked by Senate Republicans under similar circumstances. Halligan and Cadish both faced unfounded attacks from the gun lobby’s leadership, Halligan for a position she took on behalf of a client and Cadish for correctly describing the state of Second Amendment law before the Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision. Both have clearly stated that they understand and would follow Supreme Court precedent on gun rights.
“Senate Republicans and the gun lobby have worked hand in hand to keep these two exceptionally qualified women off the federal bench,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Neither Cadish nor Halligan has displayed character or ethics problems let alone any sort of extreme ideology like that they were accused of. Yet Halligan was never allowed an up-or-down vote from the Senate, and Cadish never even had the opportunity to answer senators’ questions on her record before the Judiciary Committee.”
“The sinking of these two nominees shows just how far the Senate GOP and the gun lobby are willing to go, and how badly they are willing to stretch the facts, in order to keep President Obama’s nominees off the federal bench,” Baker added.
WASHINGTON – An effort to end the Republican filibuster of DC Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Caitlin Halligan fell short in a 51-41 vote in the Senate today.
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:
“Senate Republicans have once again decided to put their own partisan interests above the will of American voters and the health of our system of justice. Caitlin Halligan is an exceptionally qualified, widely respected and unquestionably mainstream nominee. But a minority of U.S. senators, egged on by conservative activists and a party leadership with their own narrow agendas, have cherry-picked and misrepresented her record in order to keep her off the federal bench.
“Let’s call the filibuster of Halligan what it is: a politically-motivated attempt to keep President Obama’s nominee off the second highest court in the country. Four years into Obama’s presidency, more than one-third of the DC Circuit’s seats are vacant and the president has yet to have a single nominee confirmed to the court. In the meantime, the court continues to be dominated by far-right Republican-appointed judges who have pushed an extreme right-wing agenda on issues including environmental protection, workers’ rights and public health. This is not a coincidence.
“The American people have twice elected President Obama, yet a minority of U.S. senators continues to place a stranglehold on his judicial nominees. This has not only damaged our federal courts, which are facing an ongoing vacancy crisis, but has hurt the credibility of the U.S. Senate. Americans deserve better than this destructive, politically-motivated gridlock.”
WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to file cloture again yesterday to end the Republican filibuster of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the 11-member D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. A cloture vote is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:
“The filibuster of Caitlin Halligan shows just how broken the Senate has become. In 2005, a bipartisan group of senators agreed to filibuster judicial nominees only under ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ Since then, the Senate GOP has radically redefined the meaning of ‘extraordinary,’ stalling and blocking nominees on the flimsiest of threads.
“We hope senators will listen to their consciences on this vote. Opponents are cherry-picking and twisting Halligan’s record in their attempt to block an exceptionally qualified, mainstream nominee. If they succeed, they will be ensuring a continued vacancy crisis in the second most important court in the country, which thanks to Republican obstruction is now operating with more than one-third of its active judgeships vacant. I hope that fair-minded Senate Republicans will stand up to their party’s leadership and allow this enormously well qualified woman to have the up-or-down vote she deserves.”
Yesterday, People For the American Way sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the filibuster of Halligan. The full text of the letter can be found here.
People For the American Way today sent letters to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to vote to confirm Caitlin Halligan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The full text of the letter:
March 4, 2013
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we write to express our strong support for the confirmation of Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. With a fourth seat on this 11-member court becoming vacant, the urgency of confirming Halligan becomes even more pressing.
Caitlin Halligan is supremely qualified with a broad level of support in the legal, women’s and law enforcement communities. Currently the General Counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, she also spent six years serving as New York State's Solicitor General. She is a nationally respected litigator who has earned the ABA's highest possible evaluation of her qualifications.
Her career shows that she recognizes that protecting individuals, their families, and their entire communities requires not only tough prosecution, but tough prosecution done fairly. So while she shares management responsibility for the Manhattan DA's Special Victims Bureau (which prosecutes those involved in child abuse, rape, domestic violence, and elder abuse), she also has been instrumental in the DA's Conviction Integrity Program, which seeks to prevent and correct wrongful convictions.
Her nomination has the support of numerous law enforcement individuals and organizations, including Robert Morgenthau (former DA of Manhattan), Raymond Flynn (New York City's Police Commissioner), the National District Attorneys Association, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, and New York Women in Law Enforcement.
The best judges understand keenly how the law affects ordinary people. Halligan has worked to help economically disadvantaged families throughout her career. Even before law school, she worked at Georgians for Children, a statewide public policy organization that focuses on issues related to impoverished children and families. Over the years, she has engaged in pro bono work and community service projects that focus on families with the greatest needs. For example, she represented victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who were at risk of losing their housing assistance.
In its 120-year history, the DC Circuit has had a grand total of five women judges. Halligan clerked for the first of those, trailblazer Patricia Wald, and she would be the sixth if confirmed. The National Conference of Women's Bar Associations, the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the National Center for Women and Policing, and the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce are just some of the women's organizations that are supporting her nomination.
Halligan has received the highest possible rating of her qualifications from a unanimous panel of the ABA’s nonpartisan Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. She has also received the strong support of a bipartisan group of renowned appellate advocates, including Miguel Estrada (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and former nominee to this same court), Seth Waxman (Solicitor General under President Clinton), Carter Phillips (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President Reagan), and Walter Dellinger (Solicitor General under President Clinton).
A nominee with such sterling credentials and strong support from a broad range of the legal community is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.
The seat to which Halligan has been nominated has been vacant since 2005. In fact, the 11-member DC Circuit has lost three additional active judges since 2008. None of those judges has been replaced. Not surprisingly, this has had a serious impact on the caseload for the judges who are left. The Senate’s confirmation of George W. Bush nominee Thomas Griffith to the eleventh seat in 2005 resulted in there being approximately 121 pending cases per active judge. When the Senate debated Halligan’s nomination in 2011, that number had climbed to about 146 pending cases per active judge. Last month, with Judge Sentelle taking senior status, that number has now increased to about 188 cases per active judge, according to the most recent data on pending cases made available by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.
Caitlin Halligan has excelled throughout her career. With yet another vacancy opening up on the DC Circuit just last month, the need for someone of her caliber on the bench is greater than ever before. Her nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and she should be confirmed to the DC Circuit.
Executive Vice President for Policy and Program
People For the American Way
Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way
Gun Owners of America, a fringe group that hovers to the right of the National Rifle Association, is wading into the debate over Caitlin Halligan, one of President Obama's nominees to the hugely influential DC Circuit Court of Appeals. GOA's beef with Halligan is that when she was solicitor general of New York, she represented the state in its suit against gun manufacturers – a position she took for a client rather than one she espoused herself.
In an action alert today, GOA asks its members to call on their senators to oppose Halligan, calling her the “most anti-Second Amendment nominee in recent history,” a “zealot” and a “radical leftist.”
Among those who might disagree with GOA’s assessment of Halligan are former Bush judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, Reagan administration attorney Carter Phillips, and numerous law enforcement groups, all of whom have endorsed her nomination.
But the GOA’s extreme language should come as no surprise. After all, this is the same group that speculated that the Aurora movie theater shooting was an inside job, said that armed citizens could have stopped the Holocaust, claimed that the Affordable Care Act would “take away your guns,” and warned President Obama that he should “remember King George III’s experience.” Recently, GOA president Larry Pratt has gone even further, agreeing with theories that President Obama is raising a black army to massacre white Americans and that the president intends to pit “Christian, heterosexual white haves” against “black Muslim and/or atheist…have-nots.”
This morning the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve Caitlin Halligan to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the D.C. Circuit and Patty Shwartz to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit. The Committee also approved nine District Court nominees and two nominees for the U.S. Court of International Trade.
Since 2003 Shwartz has served as a Magistrate Judge on the New Jersey U.S. District Court and includes among her supporters New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Halligan, an accomplished appellate litigator who has practiced in front of the Supreme Court, is currently General Counsel of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and has strong support from the law enforcement community in New York and around the country. She was first nominated for the seat on the D.C. Circuit in 2010 and has faced ongoing Republican obstruction despite the Court’s pressing vacancies. The D.C. Circuit Court, the nation’s second most important court, currently has four vacancies (out of only eleven judgeships). This has serious ramifications for the caseloads for each of the remaining active judges, which have continued to rise steeply in recent years.
“The need to fill vacancies has never been more pressing,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “We are heartened that two highly qualified women have been approved by the Committee for the Circuit Courts. Halligan and Shwartz both deserve prompt votes.”
Of the thirteen judicial nominees voted on this morning, eight are women, six are minorities, and one is openly gay.
“These highly capable nominees come from diverse backgrounds,” Baker continued. “It is encouraging to see a list of judicial nominees who look like America.”
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today commended President Obama for re-nominating the 33 federal judicial nominees the Senate failed to confirm in the last Congress, and urged the Senate to act quickly to confirm all 33.
“The president is sending a strong message to the new Senate about the importance of ending the judicial vacancy crisis,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “It is imperative that the Senate work with the White House to confirm qualified nominees to our federal courts and put an end to the obstruction that has denied too many Americans timely access to justice. These nominees could and should have been confirmed last year. There is no excuse for delaying their confirmations any longer.”
One third of the 33 nominees that the president sent to the Senate were approved by the Judiciary Committee last year but were stalled by Republicans on the Senate floor. Others were awaiting hearings or votes in committee. One, D.C. Circuit nominee Caitlin Halligan, was first nominated by the president to fill a vacancy on this critically important court more than two years ago.
The nominations sent back to the Senate reflect President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal bench. 25 of the 33 nominees sent to the Senate today are women or people of color.