For the second time, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to approve President Obama’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan to fill a vacancy on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Ms. Halligan, a talented appellate lawyer, was first nominated in September 2010, and an outpouring of bipartisan support quickly followed from prominent lawyers, law-enforcement officials, women’s legal organizations, and others from around the country. Even so, a minority of Senators insisted on filibustering her nomination, and they have succeeded in blocking it so far. In the meantime, the number of vacancies on this important court has grown, and now there are an alarming four vacancies on this 11-judge court. Now that the President has resubmitted her nomination, and the Committee has again approved it, it is high time that a confirmation vote is held before the full Senate.
Caitlin Halligan is just the kind of person who should serve as a judge on the D.C. Circuit. She graduated with honors from Georgetown University Law Center and clerked both for Judge Patricia M. Wald on the D.C. Circuit, the court to which she has been nominated, and for Justice Stephen G. Breyer on the Supreme Court. Following these prestigious clerkships, Ms. Halligan continued to excel in each stage of her legal career. She has spent much of her practice in public service, as Solicitor General of the State of New York, and, currently, as General Counsel to the New York County District Attorney’s office. She has also worked in private law practice, most recently as a partner and head of the appellate group at the nationally-known law firm, Weil, Gotshal and Manges, LLP. Not surprisingly given her broad base of experience, the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously gave her its highest rating, “Well-Qualified.” And, importantly, if confirmed, Ms. Halligan would become only the sixth female judge in the D.C. Circuit’s history, providing sorely-needed diversity to the federal bench.
The whole country has a stake in her confirmation. The D.C. Circuit has jurisdiction over regulatory actions and decisions of the federal agencies directly affecting people’s lives all over the country—its rulings have particular impact on this nation’s environmental, labor, and antidiscrimination laws, and a host of other areas. It is often called the little Supreme Court, and with good reason.
Despite the importance of the D.C. Circuit, the great need for additional judges, and Ms. Halligan’s superb qualifications, some Republican Senators have tried to justify blocking her by raising a series of specious claims. One in particular had been that the D.C. Circuit has enough judges to handle its caseload. But now, with the vacancies having grown to 40 percent of the D.C. Circuit, continued obstruction of this exceptional nominee on the ground that the Circuit doesn’t need more judges is patently absurd. Senate obstructionists should follow the lead of Senator Lisa Murkowski, the only Republican Senator who voted to allow a yes-or-no vote on Ms. Halligan’s nomination in 2011, and allow a vote now. And then vote yes.