by Jeremy Leaming
Senate obstructionists cemented another victory in their assault on the judiciary when Caitlin Halligan withdrew her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The band of obstructionists led by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y) has succeeded in keeping President Obama from confirming a nominee to the 11-judge appeals court that has only 7 active judges. As the Boston Globe noted recently the D.C. circuit court has the “worst vacancy rate in its history and higher than any other federal circuit court nationwide."
ACS President Caroline Fredrickson blasted the obstructionists for delaying or blocking up-or-down votes on uncontroversial, qualified nominees.
“The D.C. Circuit is far too important to be held hostage by Senate obstructionists, who are leading an assault on the federal judiciary,” Fredrickson said. “The American people deserve better. Republican senators won’t even allow up-or-down votes on too many nominations now. Not only is this undermining the ability for courts to dispense justice, but it goes against the spirit of our constitutional requirement for advise and consent.”
As former chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Patricia M. Wald wrote for The Washington Post, the Court “hears the most complex, time-consuming, labyrinthine disputes over regulations with the greatest impact on ordinary Americans’ lives: clean air and water regulations, nuclear plant safety, health-care reform issues, insider trading and more.”
But McConnell and his team of obstructionists are not concerned about the harm being done to the judiciary or to the American people who should be able to rely upon a fully and effectively functioning federal bench. The obstructionists are instead focused on elections down the road, and keeping judicial vacancies open is part of their agenda. They want the federal bench to be packed with right-wing ideologues. Not even middle-of-the-road or moderate judges will do. Although Obama’s nominees have been a diverse lot, very few have been liberals.
Obstructionists’ argument that Halligan (pictured), general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, is a left-wing extremist on constitutional issues was strong enough to derail her nomination. In early March the obstructionists successfully blocked her nomination. Halligan had been nominated and re-nominated four times by Obama before the latest filibuster.
In a statement the president said a “minority of senators continued to block a simple up-or-down vote on her nomination. This unjustified filibuster obstructed the majority of senators from expressing their support.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called Halligan one of the “most qualified judicial nominees I have seen from any administration. It is a shame that narrow, special interests hold such influence that Senate Republicans for two years blocked an up-or-down voter on her confirmation. Had she received an up-or-down vote, I am certain she would have been confirmed and been an outstanding judge ….”
Before the 113th Congress convened there was talk that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would push for reform to make the filibuster a bit more difficult for obstructionists to rely upon. McConnell, however, was able to avert any changes to the procedure. (There was a promise by McConnell and his outfit of obstructionists to stop slow-walking or delaying the president’s nominations to the federal district courts.)
The president has gone far too long without out filling vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. Democrats in the Senate need to figure out how to deal with an increasingly radical Republican Party -- one that is bent on coddling the nation’s superrich and hobbling the federal bench.