Republicans on Tuesday dealt a major blow to the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
The Senate voted 54-45 on the motion to invoke cloture on the nomination, which would have limited formal debate to 30 hours. However, cloture motions require the support of 60 senators to pass. The effect was to block a vote on the nomination itself.
President Obama said in a written statement that he was “deeply disappointed” in the Republicans who voted against the motion. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin Hatch of Utah were the only Republicans who didn’t vote against cloture. Murkowski voted in favor of the motion. Hatch voted “present.”
“Today’s vote dramatically lowers the bar used to justify a filibuster, which had required ‘extraordinary circumstances,’ " Obama said. “The only extraordinary things about Ms. Halligan are her qualifications and her intellect.”
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Senate Judiciary Committee Republican, said in a written statement released before the vote that he had concerns about her time as New York solicitor general, noting a suit in which she argued that gun manufacturers were public nuisances.
Obama first nominated Halligan in September 2010, but the Senate Judiciary Committee did not hold a hearing or a vote on her nomination before the Senate adjourned last December. Obama renominated her for the judgeship in January, and the Senate Judiciary Committee in March voted 10-8 along party lines to report her nomination to the full Senate.
The court has three open slots. The first vacancy dates to 2005, when John Roberts Jr. became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. If confirmed, Halligan would fill Roberts’ old seat.
Another vacancy stems from D.C. Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph’s decision to take senior status in November 2008. Judge Douglas Ginsburg produced the final open seat when he announced in October that he would become a professor at of New York University School of Law in January.