Senate GOP blocks Obama’s pick for D.C. appeals court


WASHINGTON — Republicans blocked a vote on President
Barack Obama’s pick for a seat on the critical federal appeals court in
Washington on Tuesday, dealing the White House a setback as it continues
to struggle to fill judicial vacancies across the nation.

GOP filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Halligan, a New York lawyer
who Democrats contended was a moderate nominee who had won praise from
some conservatives.

But Republicans said they were
concerned about Halligan’s record on gun rights and terrorism detainee
issues. All but one — Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — voted to prevent her
nomination from going forward for a final floor vote, where the judge
could have been approved by a simple majority. The final tally was
54-45, six votes short of the 60 needed to break the filibuster.

marked the second time this year that Republicans have filibustered a
key Obama judicial nominee. They denied Californian Goodwin Liu a seat
on the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco in May. Obama eventually
withdrew Liu’s nomination, and he was tapped by California Gov. Jerry Brownfor a seat on the state Supreme Court instead.

chose Halligan, a former New York state solicitor general who now
serves as general counsel to the Manhattan district attorney’s office,
for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, considered one of
the most important federal appellate courts in the nation because of its
role in reviewing decisions made by government agencies.

judgeship on the court is often viewed as a stepping stone to the
Supreme Court and nominations to the D.C. Circuit have for years
prompted clashes between SenateDemocrats
and Republicans. Indeed, Halligan was picked to replace John G.
Roberts, who was elevated to the high court as its chief justice in

The vacancy has languished for five years
and is now among three on the appeals court. Halligan remains the White
House’s lone D.C. Circuit nominee. President George W. Bush was able to
place three of his nominees to the court, but all came during his second
term in office.

Senate Democrats and interest
groups argued that in blocking Halligan, the GOP abandoned a standard
that was agreed upon by both parties in 2005, when Republicans
threatened to do away with the judicial filibuster entirely. Then, the
so-called “Gang of 14” — a bipartisan group of senators — vowed to push
through any nominee except in “extraordinary circumstances.”

registered his disappointment in a White House statement, saying
Halligan’s nomination “fell victim to the Republican pattern of
obstructionism that puts party ahead of country.”

Republicans are currently “blocking 20 other highly qualified judicial
nominees,” Obama said. “These are distinguished nominees who,
historically, would be confirmed without delay.”

senators who were members of the Gang of 14 such as Sens. Susan Collins
of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona
all voted to block Halligan.

“With today’s
filibuster, the ‘Gang of 14’ deal on judicial nominations is officially
dead and the partisan war over the courts has escalated to a dangerous
new level, even while the vacancy rate on the federal judiciary has
reached a crisis point,” said Douglas Kendall, president of the
left-leaning Constitutional Accountability Center.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in remarks on the
Senate floor prior to the vote, said that Halligan was ill-suited for
the court.

“Ms. Halligan’s record strongly
suggests that she wouldn’t view a seat on the U.S. appeals court as an
opportunity to adjudicate, even-handedly, disputes between parties based
on the law, but instead as an opportunity to put her thumb on the scale
in favor of whatever individual or group or cause she happens to
believe in,” he said.

still invoke the name of Miguel Estrada, who was nominated to the D.C.
Circuit by Bush but whose nomination was stalled by a filibuster eight
years ago, as an example of Democratic obstructionism and hypocrisy. But
ironically, Estrada has been a vocal supporter of Halligan’s

The Senate has confirmed 24 of Obama’s
appeals court nominees and 97 district court nominees over the past
three years, with 15 appellate vacancies and 67 trial court slots yet to
be filled.


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