The Senate will vote Wednesday morning on Caitlin Halligan, the embattled nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as part of a recent Democratic push to fill federal judicial vacancies.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed paperwork late Monday to try to defeat a Republican filibuster of Halligan, currently the general counsel of the Manhattan district attorney's office. Reid will need help from some Republicans, since it takes 60 votes to break the block. If the filibuster is ended, Halligan then would need only 50 votes to be confirmed.
Reid spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, using the 1991 confirmation vote of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as an example of why Halligan and every judicial nominee should get a confirmation vote without having to overcome a filibuster.
"I was very troubled with Justice Thomas, who was then a circuit court judge, and a decision had to be made by me and many others: should we allow Justice Thomas an up-or-down vote," Reid said. "The decision was made, yes, he should."
"He barely made it," Reid said of the 52-48 vote. "It would have been so easy to stop that nomination, but it would have been the wrong thing to do. As bad as I feel he has been as a jurist, that doesn't matter."
Reid also said part of the Republican argument from the first filibuster of Halligan's nomination, in December 2011, had fallen apart. Republicans back then argued the D.C. Circuit did not have the caseload to warrant filling positions, but there is an additional vacancy and twice the caseload per judge, Reid said.
"No one could credibly make that argument today," Reid said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke on the Senate floor minutes after Reid, but did not address Halligan's nomination fight. On Monday afternoon, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said on the Senate floor that Halligan has taken "extreme positions on constitutional issues, pushing the court beyond what I think is reasonable."
That includes cases on gun rights, abortion and the war on terror, particularly her views on how the federal court should balance civil liberties and the detention and trial of suspected terrorists or enemy combatants, Sessions said.
Republicans have repeatedly used Senate rules to send Halligan's nomination back to the White House, even singling her out from other nominees to do so. Each time, the White House has renominated Halligan, who was first nominated in 2010.
On Monday, the White House released a new infographic on President Barack Obama's judicial nominees called "Historic Successes, Historic Delays," which highlights the increased diversity on the federal bench and the "unprecedented delays in the Senate confirmation process."
Since the beginning of the year and the new Congress, Obama has renominated 33 judicial nominees from last year, and made four new nominations. White House officials have given interviews recently stressing diversity on the bench.
In the meantime, the Senate Judiciary Committee has been aggressively pushing them through the process, packing weekly agendas with a slate of nominees to vote through to the Senate floor. And now Reid is pressing for Halligan, while other less-controversial nominees are ready for Senate floor votes.