A nominee tapped last year by President Obama to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will face a cloture vote in the Senate on Tuesday amid opposition from Republicans in part over her record on gun rights and detainee policy.
Caitlin J. Halligan, a former New York state solicitor general who serves as general counsel for the New York County District Attorney’s Office, was nominated by Obama in September 2010 to serve on the 11-member court. In March, her nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 10-to-8, party-line vote; since then, she has been waiting for a confirmation vote by the full Senate.
When the chamber votes Tuesday on ending debate on Halligan’s nomination, Democrats will probably face a tough task in rounding up the 60 votes necessary to proceed.
Senate battles over the D.C. circuit are typically heated affairs; the court, on which four of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices previously served, is viewed as the second most powerful in the country.
Groups such as Heritage Action, the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America have urged a no vote on Halligan’s nomination, citing her representation of New York state as solicitor general in a case against gun manufacturers. Halligan supporters note that in her role as solicitor general, she was arguing on behalf of the state and not her own views, and in response to questions at her March confirmation hearing, Halligan said that she would follow the precedent of the Supreme Court on gun rights.
The Senate Republican Policy Committee has also called Halligan an “injudicious choice” and has criticized her for serving on a New York City Bar Association panel that issued a 2004 report blasting the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism policy. Halligan said in March that she had been unaware of the report until last year and did not agree with its findings.
In remarks on the Senate floor Monday night, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) accused Republicans of “shifting the standards they use and the arguments they make based on the party of the president making the nominations.”
“They say one thing when President Clinton is in office, flip when the president is a Republican and flop when the American people elect President Obama,” Leahy said.
“The same Republican senators who blocked President Clinton’s nominations from even being considered by the Judiciary Committee supported every nomination of President Bush’s to the D.C. circuit, as they filled the ninth seat, twice filled the tenth seat on the court and went on to fill the eleventh seat, a judgeship that they argued was unnecessary when a Democratic president was doing the nominating,” he added.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the panel, countered that Democrats were the ones playing politics by scheduling the vote of a controversial nominee, which he argued “might have a chilling effect” on agreements regarding future judicial nominations. He also noted that the D.C. circuit seat to which Obama has appointed Halligan has remained vacant for the past six years , since its previous occupant, John G. Roberts Jr., was elevated by President George W. Bush to the Supreme Court.
“Complaints about this seat being vacant for too long just ring hollow with this senator,” Grassley said.