Caitlin Halligan

  • March 22, 2013

    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.


  • March 13, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    There was an opening early in the 113th Congress to make life a bit tougher on the Senate’s band of obstructionists – through reform of the filibuster. But the obstructionists’ ringleader, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.), deftly avoided real reform by saying the Obama administration’s nominations to the lower federal district courts would be moved along more quickly.

    But so-called reform has quickly proven rather lame. The president’s nominations to federal appeals courts as well as important executive branch positions remain in the cross-hairs of obstructionists who require a 60-vote majority before any action can be taken on those nominations or for that matter legislation.

    On March 6 the Senate killed the president’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan for as seat on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. As Matt Vister noted earlier this week in an extensive piece for the Boston Globe the D.C. appeals court “has only seven out of 11 judges, the worst vacancy in its history and higher than any other federal circuit court nationwide. Obama has never been able to get a nominee on the court, symbolizing the Senate’s failure to approve nominations to dozens of courts nationwide.”

    And the Senate’s obstructionists are again taking aim at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in part to prevent the shady practices employed by the financial industry, which helped usher in the Great Recession. Right-wing senators beholden to the nation’s superwealthy are demanding changes to the law that created the bureau or they will likely again filibuster Obama’s selection to head the bureau, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. Cordray was appointed to head the bureau during a recess of Congress. But an opinion from the D.C. Circuit – the court Obama has been blocked from appointing any judges – ruled earlier this year that the president’s three recess appoints to a hobbled National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The Obama administration has appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Because Cordray’s appointment was made during a recess, it will expire and he’ll still need to be confirmed. But Republican obstructionists are threatening to block Cordray unless the financial reform law is weakened.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during a Senate Banking Committee yesterday blasted the obstructionism, saying, “I think that the delay in getting him confirmed is bad for consumers, it’s bad for small banks, it’s bad for credit unions, it’s bad for anyone trying to offer an honest product in an honest market. The American people deserve a Congress that worries less about helping big banks and more about helping regular people who have been cheated on mortgages, on credit cards, on student loans, on credit reports.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff Gelles has more on Warren’s comments and a link to video of the hearing.)

    Today TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that Obama during a meeting with Democrats this week “expressed his frustration with Republican slow-walking and filibustering of key nominees, and urged them to address the issue ….”


  • March 8, 2013

    by Kristine Kippins

    In celebration of International Women’s Day, ACS highlights the progress made over the last four years to diversify our federal judiciary.

    According to the White House, President Obama has taken great steps to put more women on the bench. With two vacancies on the Supreme Court, Obama filled both spots with women, including the first Latina Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.  He appointed the second and third openly gay women to the district courts, Alison Nathan and Pamela Chen.  Chen is the first openly gay Asian American on the federal bench.  Six district courts have their first female judge ever – AK, E.D. Cal., S.D. Iowa, ME, VT, and Wyo. Shelly Dick will be number seven once installed in the Middle District of Louisiana.  Five states can now claim their first female circuit court judge – Alaska, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia. And the first Asian American woman to a circuit court, Jacqueline Nguyen, now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

    Overall, Obama has placed 74 women on the federal bench, 42 percent of all confirmations, and that same statistic carries through to the percentage of female nominees pending in the Senate.  At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush could only boast that 22 percent of his confirmed judges being women.

  • March 7, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Sen. Rand Paul, (R-K.Y.) may be a strident, sometimes over-the-top Tea Party supporter and fervent antigovernment advocate, but his filibuster of President Obama’s pick to head the C.I.A. was principled. He did so by actually taking to the Senate floor to explain, albeit in very long fashion, his opposition to the administration’s nominee C.I.A. John Brennan, who was confirmed today for the position.

    Paul’s action was far different than the Republican obstructionists’ baseless and practically silent filibuster of Caitlin Halligan to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. As Greg Sargent writes in The Plum Line, “Paul’s filibuster was born out of concern about an actual issue – objections to Obama’s approach to drone warfare that are shared on both sides of the aisle.” [See below for more commentary on the Obama administration’s secretive use of drones]

    Halligan, however, was blocked by senators who on the whole probably spoke less than two hours about Halligan. And their objections were incredibly lame. She’s received the ABA’s highest ranking for qualification and exceedingly strong support in the legal community, both conservatives and progressives.

    Republican senators have been obstructing the judicial nominations process ever since Obama first took office. The president was not able to appoint a judge to the D.C. Circuit during his first term because of Republicans’ obstinacy. There is simply a great desire among the Senate Republicans to keep as many vacancies open, especially on the powerful D.C. Circuit, for as long as possible. These obstructionists are beholden to a base that coddles the superrich and riles up a shrinking group, albeit loud and still influential, obsessed with keeping the courts packed with right-wing ideologues. Too many of those right-wing jurists help support state efforts to abolish abortion and make life much more difficult for those in the LGBT community and undocumented persons.

    The sham filibuster, which is the preferred tool of the Senate’s obstructionists, has become the norm. It has been used to halt consideration of policy such as efforts to confront climate change or address immigration reform; but it has most often been used to delay or kill executive branch or judicial branch nominations. Indeed, thanks to the sham filibuster, the Republicans have helped create more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench. In fact vacancies have hovered at 80 or above for much of Obama’s term. The Senate Republicans’ assault on the federal bench, serves their political purposes, but harms the judiciary and Americans who rely on the courts to uphold constitutional rights and seek redress of grievances. A federal bench burdened with fewer judges and larger caseloads is no way for the judiciary to function.


  • March 6, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Another highly qualified nominee was the victim of the Senate’s obstructionists’ ongoing assault on the judiciary, which includes burdening the federal bench with high vacancies and larger caseloads.

    Today the Senate filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, largely along a party-line vote, 54-45, with one Republican joining all the Democrats. Halligan was hailed in the legal community, liberal and conservatives, alike as greatly suited to serve in the judiciary.

    But as noted here yesterday, obstructionists continued to claim Halligan to “extreme” on constitutional issues. And they seem bent on keeping vacancies open and giving higher hurdles to confirmation for women and minority nominees in particular.

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson blasted the action today saying, in part, that the obstructionists are undermining a pillar of democracy.

    “Our courts and citizens are seeing justice delayed because our courts cannot function effectively or efficiently without judges. It’s far past time to end this vacancy crisis and get our justice system back up and running," Fredrickson said. (See her full statement .)

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also took on the needless obstruction of judicial nominations, and some of his Republican colleagues, concluding, “They have not been fair to this fine woman.”

    President Obama called the senators' action a "pattern of obstruction," adding that his  "judicial nominees wait more than three times as long on the Senate floor to receive a vote than my predecessor's nominees." Like retired U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia M. Wald noted in a column for The Washington Post, the president also highlighted the harm done to the D.C. circuit court, which was gone years with vacancies.

    "The effects of this obstruction take the heaviest toll on the D.C. Circuit, considered the Nation's second-highest court, which has only seven active judges and four vacancies," the president's March 6 statement reads. "Until last month, for more than forty years, the court has always had at least eight active judges and as many as twelve."