People For the American Way

Five Reasons the Senate Should Confirm Caitlin Halligan

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will ask the Senate to vote this week on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals – a nomination that Senate Republicans filibustered in 2011 and may again. The DC Circuit, is often considered the second-highest court in the nation because it has the final word on a wide range of issues —  worker’s rights, environmental protection, consumer health and safety, and preventing Wall Street abuse – that affect the entire country.   Here are five reasons why Halligan deserves a vote from the Senate:

  1. She’s brilliant. Halligan’s qualifications are unquestionable. She  has an impressive background as a prosecutor and litigator, serving for six years as New York’s solicitor general and arguing several cases before the Supreme Court. She currently serves as general counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and has earned the endorsements of law enforcement organizations and leaders including legendary Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the National District Attorneys Association, the New York Association of Chiefs of Police, the New York State Sheriff’s Association, and the National Center for Women and Policing. She also has the support of a bipartisan group of America’s most renowned appellate advocates, including top legal officials from the Clinton and Reagan administrations. She received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association.
  2. She would become only the sixth woman to sit on the DC Circuit in its 120-year history. Early in her career, Halligan clerked for the first woman to sit on the court, former Judge Patricia Wald, and has in turn served as a mentor to other women lawyers. President Obama has placed a priority on making the federal courts reflect the people they serve, nominating a greater percentage of women and people of color than any previous president and putting more openly LGBT judges on the bench than all his predecessors combined.
  3. The DC Circuit doesn’t have enough judges. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has an enormous influence over federal policy, from environmental and health regulations to consumer protections to national security. But the court doesn’t have enough judges to keep up with its workload: four of the eleven seats on the court are vacant, and the seat that Halligan is nominated to fill has been vacant since 2005. Because of this vacancy crisis, the caseload per active judge on the court has risen more than 50 percent since 2005, meaning longer waits for Americans seeking justice.
  4. The opposition to her nomination is flimsy. In their effort to keep an Obama nominee off the DC Circuit, opponents of her nomination have relied on a flimsy manufactured controversy. In particular, some have attacked Halligan for the official role she played as New York’s solicitor general in a suit against gun manufacturers. However, as recently as 2005, many of the Republicans opposing Halligan stated that positions that lawyers took on behalf of their clients should be off-limits in judicial confirmation battles.  Defending positions advocated by now-Chief Justice John Roberts on behalf of clients including the Reagan and Bush administrations, Sen. John Cornyn said, “Our adversarial system of justice depends on lawyers not just taking cases with which they perhaps ideologically are inclined to agree but, rather, they are supposed to take the facts and the legal arguments and do the very best they can so that in a clash that plays out in our adversarial system of justice in the court room.” Roberts himself stated, “My point is simply this, that in representing clients, in serving as a lawyer, it’s not my job to decide whether that’s a good idea or a bad idea. The job of the lawyer is to articulate the legal arguments on behalf of the client.”
  5. The president deserves votes on his nominees. Under President Bush, many Republican senators said that it was wrong, or even unconstitutional, to filibuster a president’s judicial nominees. Under President Obama, they have apparently forgotten those positions, prompting more cloture petitions to end filibusters of judicial nominees in President Obama's first term than there were in Bush’s entire presidency. President Obama has won two elections, yet has not put a single judge on the second-highest court in the country. His nominee deserves, at the very least, an up-or-down confirmation vote.


Caitlin Halligan, Filibuster, judicial nominees, Obstruction