It’s a shame this became necessary, but the Senate Republican minority didn’t give the White House much of a choice.
President Obama has withdrawn the nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan, a prominent New York lawyer, to serve on an important federal appeals court in Washington, blaming Republicans for blocking her confirmation twice.
The president formally notified the Senate of his decision on Friday, after Ms. Halligan requested that her name be withdrawn from consideration. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is widely viewed as the most important federal appellate court because it reviews many cases on the government’s authority.
In a press statement, Obama said, “I am deeply disappointed that even after nearly two and a half years, a minority of senators continued to block a simple up-or-down vote on her nomination.” As we talked about a few weeks ago, the president is right to feel frustrated. Halligan was clearly qualified, and would have been confirmed if given a vote. But Republicans condemned her work on a New York case against gun manufacturers, and after spending the last decade arguing that judicial filibusters tear at the fabric of American democracy, they filibustered her nomination.
Note, Halligan was nominated to serve on the D.C. Circuit, widely seen as a first-among-equals at the federal appellate level, and often a stepping stone for the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, the specific seat on the federal bench Halligan was nominated to fill used to belong to John Roberts – who left it nearly eight years ago to become the Supreme Court’s chief justice.
With Republicans having stopped Halligan’s nomination, the President Obama has named a grand total of zero jurists to this top federal bench. What’s more, as Joan McCarter noted, the D.C. circuit still has four vacancies – about a third of the bench – which hampers the ability of the court to do its job.
In theory, Senate Democrats and the White House could have kept trying, but in the face of unyielding Republican obstructionism , and with Caitlin Halligan unable to leave her professional life on hold for the indefinite future, everyone involved decided to just pull the plug.
Also in theory, the president could consider Halligan for a recess appointment, but Republicans have eliminated that option, too.
And since Republicans face no adverse consequences for these tactics whatsoever – on the contrary, the GOP is rewarded for its intransigence – Obama will nominate other qualified jurists for the bench, and Republicans will continue to reflexively block them, too.
I’d like to think it’s painfully obvious by now that Senate Democratic leaders made a mistake with their filibuster reform “compromise” in January, but the collapse of Halligan’s nomination should serve as a powerful case study in the extent to which the status quo is untenable.