- Caitlin Halligan named by Obama to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
- Appointment seen by many as a professional stepping stone to the Supreme Court
- Her confirmation was previously blocked by Senate Republicans
In a move sure to please the political left, President Obama on Monday re-nominated a New York lawyer to a prestigious seat on a federal appeals court, assuring an election-year fight with Republicans over judges.
Caitlin Halligan was one of two nominees named by the president to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, seen by many as a professional stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Clarence Thomas also served on that court prior to their appointment to their current jobs. Halligan is currently general counsel for the District Attorney's Office in Manhattan, New York
"This important court is often called the nation's second-highest court, and it stands more than a quarter vacant," said Mr. Obama. "I remain deeply disappointed that a minority of the United States Senate blocked Ms. Halligan's nomination last year and urge her reconsideration, especially given her broad bipartisan support from the legal and law enforcement communities."
In a rare move, Senate Republicans in December voted to block the 45-year-old Ohio native, complaining she was too liberal and would be an activist on the bench.
The largely party-line vote was 54 to 45, falling shy of the required 60-vote threshold that would have ended the cloture stalemate and allow a final vote on the nomination itself.
The nomination was closely watched because the DC Circuit considers so many federal cases that often end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The was no immediate reaction to the re-nomination from Senate Republicans, and no indication when confirmation hearings would be held. The election year would complicate such a Judiciary Committee review, given its compressed schedule, and past partisan disagreement over Halligan, likely to spill over into reconsideration of her qualifications for the bench.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had said Halligan met the "extraordinary circumstances" standard for a filibuster under a 2005 Senate agreement that allowed filibusters of judicial nominees only in extreme cases. McConnell complained about Halligan's legal positions on gun rights, detainee rights, and immigration and said she would bring an activist agenda to the court.
"In Ms. Halligan's view, the courts aren't so much a forum for the even-handed application of the law as a place where a judge can work out his or her own ideas of what society should look like," McConnell said on the Senate floor during the December debate.
The four remaining Republican members of the so-called "Gang of 14" -- Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, and Olympia Snowe of Maine -- all voted against allowing Halligan's name to come to a final vote.
Democrats had defended Halligan as a "superbly qualified nominee," in the words of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the Judiciary Committee chairman. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, called her a "moderate" and said Republicans have distorted her record.
Schumer said the decision by Republicans to filibuster Halligan means the 2005 Senate agreement, hammered out then by the Gang of 14, would be "null and void." He said it could lead to "chaos" as the Senate deals with judicial confirmations in the future, particularly those on the circuit court level.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is facing a tough re-election fight this year, had voted present instead of yes or no. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was the only senator to cross party lines when she voted in favor of moving the nomination forward.
Also nominated for the DC Circuit is Sri Srinivasan, the principal deputy solicitor general at the Justice Department, who has argued 20 cases before the Supreme Court. He would be the appeals court's first Asian-American, if confirmed.
The president has also criticized Republicans for blocking nearly two dozen other nominees to the federal bench, half of whom would fill seats that have been labeled "judicial emergencies" because of rising caseloads and shortages of judges to handle them.
Halligan represented the second Republican-led filibuster of an Obama judicial nominee. Former law professor Goodwin Liu was blocked a year ago from serving on the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco. He was later named to the California Supreme Court.
She is a former New York solicitor general, and had served as a law clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer.
Republicans had been criticized for delaying floor votes on many nominees in the president's first three years in office, but the White House, too, has come under fire for not moving quickly to fill growing bench vacancies. The president's two Supreme Court choices -- Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- received relatively swift consideration.
Some moderates from both parties have long lamented threats of delays and filibuster attempts of most presidential appointments. They say ongoing unfilled vacancies have created a crisis in many federal courts, with bulging dockets being handled by too few judges.