The issue of gun control has helped to derail one of President Obama’s nominees to a key federal appeals court.
A gun-rights group helped take credit after Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked the nomination of Caitlin Joan Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The Republican filibuster left top Senate Democrats fuming.
A gun group, known as the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), says it sent out a mailing which identified Halligan as a “liberal agitator and a fervent gun hater” who “pushed to bankrupt gun manufacturers in New York with frivolous lawsuits.”
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa specifically invoked the gun issue in a floor speech defending the filibuster against Halligan. Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We sent out more than one million e-mail alerts to gun owners across the country, warning them of Halligan’s anti-gun philosophy,” says CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb, “and it is clear from today’s 54-45 Senate vote against cloture, thus rejecting Halligan’s nomination, that their voices were heard loud and clear.”
While the gun group accuses Obama of pursuing an “anti-gun strategy,” the president actually has remained fairly silent on the issue of gun control, and has never made it a central issue in his presidency.
The president had nominated Halligan to fill one of three vacant seats on the important D.C. Circuit. The D.C. Circuit is now more than one-quarter vacant. The D.C. Circuit is often considered the second most important court in the land because of the complex cases that it handles, including appeals involving federal regulatory decisions and national security issues, such as cases arising from military detentions at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
After the failed vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of “gamesmanship.”
Reid called the nominee “a qualified candidate with bipartisan support from colleagues who call her a brilliant legal mind.”
“I am concerned that today the Senate is backing away from the 2005 agreement that the minority would only block judicial nominees in extraordinary circumstances. Since Ms. Halligan’s nomination clearly does not meet that standard, Republicans today lowered the bar for filibustering judicial nominees,” he says. “I am disappointed that Republicans blocked a talented, experienced nominee for no other reason than to please a few ideological extremists. If this truly exceptional candidate isn’t qualified to be a judge in the United States of America, it is hard to imagine who Republicans would find acceptable.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also unloaded on his GOP colleagues.
And, like Reid, Leahy hints of trouble for future judicial nominees, including those from a future Republican president.
“Caitlin Halligan is, by all accounts, a qualified, mainstream, and respected nominee. Senate Republicans’ shifting standards on judicial nominations have resulted in cloture motions filed on the most consensus of nominations, and even a district court nomination earlier this year,” Leahy says. “The new standard applied by Senate Republicans to nominations to the D.C. Circuit will make it nearly impossible for nominees of any President to be confirmed to this important court.
“Ms. Halligan is the kind of nominee we should all welcome to public service. This filibuster is a disservice to the federal judiciary, and to the millions of Americans it serves,” Leahy adds.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.