I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there. We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog. (Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.) I encourage you to use the blog in these ways:
To post questions or comments about the readings before we discuss them in class;
To follow up on class discussions with additional comments or questions.
To post relevant news items or videos.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Caitlin Halligan: Judicial Nominations Meet Senate Procedures

On Friday, the White House withdrew the nomination of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama's judicial nominee for the DC Court of Appeals. This was actually Halligan's second nomination. Her recent retraction marks the second time her nomination was blocked by Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans were disgruntled over Halligan's previous work with then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that aimed to hold gun manufacturers legally responsible to some degree over gun-related violence in New York, which angered the NRA.

Halligan's failed nomination(s) joins the pile of blocked or stalled nominations that come at a very problematic time, where judicial vacancies have become an increasing problem throughout the country. It also gives us a great example of different Senate procedures that come into play that we've been discussing in class. In a slightly more dated article in The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin highlights some Senate mechanisms that are pivotal in cases of delayed or blocked judicial nominations, most often done by the minority party:
  • The Filibuster and Cloture: Unlike the old-fashioned filibuster Senator Rand Paul used during John Brennan's confirmation vote, the filibuster that killed Halligan, along with many other judicial nominations, was the threat of a filibuster by Senate Republicans. Despite obtaining a majority of votes for consideration, Halligan failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary to enact cloture, with 41 Senate Republicans voting against.
  • Unanimous Consent: Toobin notes how because the Senate calendar operates on unanimous consent, Senate Republicans must agree to addressing judicial nominations, in which they can take their time in doing or refuse to do, stalling or preventing the nomination from coming to a vote.
  • The Nuclear Option: Toobin notes how Senate Democrats were also guilty of halting and blocking President George W. Bush's judicial nominees through the same use of the filibuster. When Senate Republicans grew frustrated with the obstruction of the Democrats, they threatened to force a rules change that would limit the filibuster through sheer number of party-line votes, otherwise known as the nuclear option. In 2005, the bipartisan "Gang of 14" reached a truce that prevented the option.
The Washington Post also provided Halligan's letter that requested Obama to withdraw her nomination, which can be read here.

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