The Halligan Filibuster

The Halligan Filibuster

Today's filibuster of a judicial nominee with bipartisan support violates the very essence of how the Senate is supposed to work

There’s more evidence today that the filibuster reform in January was anything but. This morning, Senate Republicans voted to filibuster a final vote on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. This court is widely considered the second most important in the judicial system, after the Supreme Court. As former Judge Patricia Wald wrote last week in the Washington Post, aside from SCOTUS, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals “resolves more constitutional questions involving separation of powers and executive prerogatives than any court in the country.”

Although it should have 11 judges, it only has 7 today. This means overworked judges, a growing list of pending cases per judge, and extraordinarily delayed access to justice. This court hasn’t had a new appointment since 2006.

President Obama nominated Caitlin Halligan to fill one of the seats. Ms. Halligan is currently General Counsel at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. She previously served as Solicitor General of New York State for six years. She’s backed by prominent attorneys across the philosophical spectrum, including President George W. Bush’s assistant solicitor general Miguel Estrada, and Seth Waxman and Walter Dellinger, Solicitors General in the Clinton Administration. The non-partisan American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously gave her its highest possible rating — “well-qualified.”

President Obama nominated her in the last Congress, but Republicans raised the stakes by requiring 60 votes on her nomination. Although she received 54 votes from both sides of the aisle, she fell 6 votes short of the 60 needed to end the filibuster.

So the President re-submitted her nomination this Congress. But a faction of Republicans demanded 60 votes, yet again. Although some senators could not make it to the chamber to vote because of the snowstorm, she still received a bipartisan vote of 51 senators. But that’s not enough to move forward. Thus, the filibuster continues. Senator Reid moved to reconsider the question on cloture and end the filibuster in the future, so we can expect another vote soon.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, took the floor and noted that the ongoing filibuster of Caitlin Halligan violates the “spirit” of the rules reform at the beginning of this Congress. I would have gone one step further. It violates the way the Senate is supposed to work.

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