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Judicial System Continues to Fall Victim to Republican Obstruction

White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler writes that Republican obstruction in the Senate is causing a vacancy crisis in our courts.

Yesterday, Republicans in the United States Senate blocked Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  She had been nominated to fill the 9th seat on this 11-seat court – which is now more than a quarter vacant – and yesterday’s filibuster is unwarranted and irresponsible.

Based on her record, it is indisputable that Ms. Halligan should be confirmed to this important court.

Ms. Halligan currently serves as General Counsel at the New York County District Attorney’s Office, which investigates and prosecutes approximately 100,000 cases a year.  Ms. Halligan served as New York State’s Solicitor General for nearly six years, where she managed the 45 attorneys in the State Attorney General’s office and was in charge of overseeing hundreds of court filings annually in the federal and state appellate courts.  She has served as counsel of record in nearly 50 matters before the United States Supreme Court.  She also has argued five cases before the Supreme Court and many cases before both federal and state appellate courts.  Ms. Halligan clerked on the Supreme Court for Justice Stephen Breyer and on the D.C. Circuit for Judge Patricia Wald.  She received her A.B. with honors from Princeton University in 1988 and her J.D. with high honors from Georgetown University Law Center, where she served as managing editor of the Georgetown Law Journal.

Ms. Halligan has broad bipartisan support from the law enforcement and legal communities.  To give just a few examples, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau support Ms. Halligan, as does the New York Association of Chiefs of Police and the New York State Sheriff’s Association.  The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, a non-partisan peer review body, rated Ms. Halligan “unanimous well-qualified” to serve on the D.C. Circuit.

Despite Ms. Halligan’s extraordinarily strong  record, Republicans filibustered her nomination – refusing to allow for a simple up-or-down vote. 

Worse still, even consensus judicial nominees are being needlessly delayed by the Senate Republicans.  There is a vacancy crisis in our courts, and it could be cut by more than a quarter if the Senate would simply confirm the nominees who already have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In addition to Ms. Halligan, 20 nominees have been approved by the Judiciary Committee after thorough consideration, but have been waiting – many for months – to be confirmed.  Seventeen of these judicial nominees have been approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee – there is no stated opposition to their nominations, and no explanation has been provided for why they cannot be confirmed immediately.  On average, President Obama’s judicial nominees have waited five times as long as President Bush’s judicial nominees to be confirmed after receiving Judiciary Committee approval.

As Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said, there is “an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem,” which has “created acute difficulties for some judicial districts” and left some sitting judges “burdened with extraordinary caseloads.”

It is time for the Senate to act responsibly and to meet this need.