In a move that could have far-reaching implications for the ability of the president and the Senate to fill the federal courts, the Senate GOP today succeeded in blocking a vote on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, denying cloture on the nomination with a nearly party-line 54-45 vote. Halligan, a widely respected attorney and former Solicitor General of New York, was first nominated in September 2010 to fill the seat vacated six years ago by Chief Justice John Roberts. Her nomination is being stalled by the Senate GOP despite her moderate record and enthusiastic endorsements from across the ideological spectrum, including from conservative Bush nominee Miguel Estrada, who had himself once been nominated to this court. If the Senate were allowed to vote on the nomination, she would fill one of three current vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, and would become the sixth woman ever to sit on the court.
Marge Baker of People For the American Way said:
“Caitlin Halligan is a talented and fair-minded lawyer, and she would make a fine addition to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. She is respected by legal professionals across the political spectrum for her balanced approach to the law and the Constitution.
“Republicans have spent much of the past year in a desperate search for some legitimate reason to oppose Halligan’s nomination. Every attempt they have made has fallen flat. Now, unable to find a shred of evidence that Halligan is unfit to serve, the GOP has fallen back on the specious argument that the D.C. Circuit court’s workload is low enough to justify leaving one third of its seats vacant. Making the political nature of the filibuster even clearer, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley threatened in a floor speech yesterday that the Senate GOP would retaliate against the more than 20 other pending nominations, most of them unopposed and many of them for judicial emergencies, simply because Democrats attempted to bring Halligan’s nomination to an up or down vote.
“Today’s vote has kept a talented lawyer from the bench, at least for the moment, but it has also set a new standard for D.C. Circuit nominees that will be virtually impossible for any president of either party to meet. Halligan’s nomination should not have been at all controversial– she is decidedly moderate and unquestionably qualified. If someone so unquestionably qualified and backed by top legal figures from across the political spectrum can be blocked by a filibuster, then who can’t be?
“Once again, Republicans in Congress have put political concerns above their duty to ensure the functioning of the American judicial system. They have set a precedent for judicial nominations that will hurt the justice system far into the future, regardless of the party of the president and the majority in Congress.
“We will continue to press for the confirmation of Caitlin Halligan as well as the 20 other nominees awaiting votes on the calendar. I hope that the Senate GOP quickly recognizes their mistake in blocking these nominations and reverses course on the obstruction that is threatening our judicial system."