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Caitlin Halligan: D.C. Circuit Court Judicial Nominee Filibustered

Caitlin Halligan

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 12/08/11 07:45 AM ET Updated: 12/08/11 04:02 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- This week's Republican filibustering of judicial nominee Caitlin Halligan brought to light a whole bunch of ironies.

In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick writes about the filibuster as exposing Senate Republicans' ironic and hypocritical attitudes toward judges and the judicial system.

Helligan, a 1995 Georgetown Law grad and former clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer who has practiced before the U.S. Supreme Court and represented New York state in different senior capacities, was well-regarded and widely endorsed when President Obama nominated her to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking GOP member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, more or less came out and said that Halligan's nomination was blocked as payback for previous blockage of Republican nominees to the D.C. Circuit.

It was also because so many of that court's judges rise to the U.S. Supreme Court -- the D.C. Circuit is something of a feeder for the U.S. Supreme Court. Four of the sitting justices sat on the D.C. Circuit. It now has three vacancies; Halligan would have filled the vacancy created in 2005 when John Roberts became the Supreme Court's chief justice.

Conservatives cast Halligan as a gun-hating liberal activist with an alarming and dangerous pro gay marriage agenda. Lithwick notes that Halligan's detractors in the Senate used a a sentence fragment from one piece of Halligan's work -- a legal opinion about same-sex marriage in New York state -- taken out of context, to show her as an extremist.

Some of these senators, Lithwick writes, at the same time hypocritically showed they believed that regulations in place preventing television cameras in courtrooms should be maintained, since to find otherwise might lead to "snippets" of legal arguments being broadcast without context:

Oh no, not snippets! ("Snippets" is the judicial term of art for what would happen if Stephen Colbert got hold of videotapes of oral arguments.) All morning we were treated to the loftiest explications of how legal thinking is far too complicated for Americans to consume without their brains imploding from the effort. (In 1989 Justice Scalia explained, "That is why the University of Chicago Law Review is not sold at the 7-Eleven.") Today we heard that allowing cameras in the court might confuse young people about civics. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said nobody can be expected to comprehend oral argument without reading all the briefs. So which is it? Is the law so simple that a mere sentence can capture an entire judicial career, as it does when Halligan writes? Or is it so complex that even gavel-to-gavel coverage of a case will fail to clarify its bottomless mysteries? Republicans today argued that it's both.

Ed Whelan in the National Review notes a different irony exposed by the blocked nomination and its aftermath.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been quoted everywhere lamenting that the "Gang of 14" agreement is now dead, killed by the Halligan filibuster.

In 2005, the Gang of 14 -- seven Republican and seven Democratic senators -- agreed not to block judicial nominees except under "extraordinary circumstances." This was back when Democrats were doing the filibustering, and Republicans said that blocking judicial nominations was inappropriate.

"The approach taken by Senate Republicans will have lasting consequences beyond this one nomination. It seems to me that a vote against this nominee could well be a vote to declare the gang of 14 agreement null and void," Schumer said in a widely cited statement.

"I had to chuckle at Schumer's brazen shamelessness," Whelan writes:

There was the architect of the Democrats' unprecedented campaign of filibusters against Bush 43 nominees, and thus a lead target of the Gang of 14 Agreement, having the gall to claim that Republicans were violating an agreement that expired by its own terms five years ago and that Schumer himself never accepted as in any way constraining his own conduct.

And here's another irony, if just a small one: In 2005, Caitlin Halligan successfully defended New York's law prohibiting television cameras in the courtroom.

RELATED VIDEO: Then-Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) explaining at a dinner party why he joined the Gang of 14.

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