Republicans in the US Senate filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, despite her receiving majority support from the Senate on a cloture vote. The nomination failed to achieve cloture by a count of 54-45.
One Republican – Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — joined all 53 members of the Democratic caucus in voting to move ahead with Halligan’s nomination, leaving the former New York state solicitor general six votes short of the 60 votes necessary for ending debate.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has never voted to filibuster a judicial nomination, voted “present.”
Tuesday’s vote is notable in that it marks the second time that Senate Republicans have blocked an Obama judicial nominee. In May, Republicans filibustered Obama’s nomination of Goodwin Liu to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit following a protracted battle over what GOP senators cited as the University of California at Berkeley law professor’s liberal views.
This obscures a bit what Senate Republicans have been able to do on judicial nominations. They have consistently blocked unanimous consent, forcing judicial nominations to eat up valuable floor time. The backlog has been pretty widespread, with dozens of nominees waiting months if not years to get a vote. Once the nominees get to the floor, Republicans have let the so-called noncontroversial nominees past, but Democrats, wary of wasting time on a nominee who will get a filibuster, have basically segregated the judicial votes, holding back nominees more likely to draw objections. They tried to get Halligan through today, and met near-unanimous opposition.
As Ian Milhiser writes, it’s hard to even piece out the GOP’s objection to Halligan, other than the fact that she was a nominee of Barack Obama. There’s a thin reed of her writing legal briefs against conservative positions while solicitor general of New York, but of course a solicitor general is not a policy making position. Somebody else made the policy decisions that it became her job to defend. If the new standard disqualifies people who write anything that smacks as liberal as part of their job, a whole host of potential public servants would have to be shown the door.
This spells the end of the Gang of 14, as members of it like Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe all voted against cloture for Halligan, despite no extraordinary circumstances involved in the case. Chuck Schumer said on the floor that there would be “lasting consequences” for this violation of the Gang of 14 agreement. I hardly believe this will bring the nuclear option back into play. So Senate Democrats can show everyone what they’ve got.
In a statement, Marge Baker of People for the American Way wrote that “Today’s vote has kept a talented lawyer from the bench, at least for the moment, but it has also set a new standard for D.C. Circuit nominees that will be virtually impossible for any president of either party to meet. Halligan’s nomination should not have been at all controversial– she is decidedly moderate and unquestionably qualified. If someone so unquestionably qualified and backed by top legal figures from across the political spectrum can be blocked by a filibuster, then who can’t be?” This is someone who Miguel Estrada wrote a brief supporting.
The escalation of obstructionism from Senate Republicans will only change when they pay a price for the obstruction.