GOP Blocks Obama's Anti-Gun, Pro-Abortion Nominee to Powerful Court

Caitlin J. Halligan

Republican Senators on Tuesday effectively blocked President Barack Obama’s controversial nominee to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit citing her work against gun rights and pro-abortion stances.

The nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan, a former New York state solicitor general, failed in a cloture vote of 54-45 – six votes short of the 60 required to break the filibuster. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the only Republican to vote with Democrats.

Republicans said they were wary of Halligan’s record as a legal activist and believed she would continue that activism on the bench.

“In Ms. Halligan’s view, the courts aren’t so much a forum for the even-handed application of the law as a place where a judge can work out his or her own idea of what society should look like,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. –Ky.).

“As she once put it, the courts are a means to achieve social progress with judges presumably writing the script,” McConnell said.

“I have nothing against this nominee personally,” McConnell said. “We shouldn’t be putting activists on the bench.”

Halligan’s nomination has been languishing in the Senate since Obama first nominated her in September 2010. Republicans signaled in March she faced tough opposition when the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked in a 10 to 8 party-line vote to advance her confirmation for a floor vote.

The D.C. Circuit has jurisdiction over constitutional challenges and contentious decisions by federal government agencies and is a stepping-stone to the Supreme Court, so it receives special scrutiny by the Senate. The open seat has not been filled since Chief Justice John Roberts was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2005.

Proponents of Second Amendment rights criticized Halligan’s attempts in 2003 to hold firearms manufactures and retailers responsible for crimes committed with guns. In 2006, Halligan also filed a brief arguing that handgun manufacturers were guilty of creating a public nuisance.

“Such an activist approach is both bewildering and flatly inconsistent with the original understanding of the Second Amendment rights that Americans enjoy,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R.–Utah).

“It is most certainly not the time for us to consider confirming a controversial nominee with a record of extreme views of the law and Constitution,” Lee said.

Halligan has also argued that the president does not have the legal authority to detain enemy combatants associated with Al-Qaeda.

“This issue is particularly troublesome for a nominee to the D.C. Circuit, where many of these questions are heard,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R.–Iowa).

On abortion, Halligan filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court arguing that pro-life protestors were actually engaging in extortion, although the court rejected that legal theory 8-1.

The Family Research Council cited that action as “a twisted interpretation of the Hobbs Act” and an example of her extensive “resume of radicalism.”

“Her brand of judicial activism would be a devastating blow in the D.C. Circuit Court, which plays a major role in interpreting federal statutes and regulations. If she really does view the courts as a ‘special friend of liberty,’ there’s no telling what damage she could do under the guise of social progress,” the Family Research Council said.

Sen. Charles Schumer criticized Republicans for opposing her nomination and called her a “sterling example” of a responsible activist.

“What (Republicans) really want, is judicial activism on the right,” Schumer said.
After the vote, Obama issued a statement and said Halligan has the experience, integrity, and judgment necessary to serve with distinction on this court.

“But today, her nomination fell victim to the Republican pattern of obstructionism that puts party ahead of country. Today’s vote dramatically lowers the bar used to justify a filibuster, which had required extraordinary circumstances.  The only extraordinary things about Ms. Halligan are her qualifications and her intellect,” Obama said.

Halligan is the second nominee this year to be filibustered by Republicans. Goodwin Liu was blocked earlier this year from taking a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco and his nomination was withdrawn by Obama.

Although the Senate has confirmed 24 of Obama’s appeals court nominees and 97 district court nominees, the president also complained that Republicans continued to block 20 other judicial nominees.

Halligan was opposed by Second Amendment rights groups including Gun owners of America, which urged members to lobby their Senators against the nomination.

“As New York’s solicitor general, Halligan was one of the chief lawyers responsible for New York’s baseless and politically motivated efforts to bankrupt gun manufacturers using frivolous litigation,” Gun Owners of America said in a statement. “In so doing, Halligan proved that she places liberal political activism above fealty to the law.”

“Certainly, no other manufacturer of another item — whether it be cars, baseball bats, or anything else — would be held liable for the criminal misuse of its product.  And, as Halligan well knows, the application of that principle to firearms would surely eliminate the manufacture of firearms in America,” Gun Owners of America said.

The NRA also opposed Halligan’s nomination in a rare letter to Democrat and Republican Senators on Monday.

“Given Ms. Halligan’s clear opposition to a major federal law that was essential to protecting law-abiding Americans’ right to keep and bear arms, as well as an important industry that equips our military and law enforcement personnel, we must respectfully oppose her confirmation, including the vote on cloture,” said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.