The Time Has Come to Fill Important Judicial Vacancies

Tomorrow, the Senate will again consider the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court which is in critical need of additional judges. President Obama first nominated Ms. Halligan to that important court in September 2010, but two and a half years later, Republicans in the Senate have yet to allow an up-or-down vote on her nomination.

Caitlin Halligan is exactly the kind of person who should be a judge: she is smart, fair, thoughtful and deeply committed to the Constitution and the rule of law. Consideration of her nomination should not be about politics.  It should be about ensuring that highly qualified individuals who are willing to commit themselves to a lifetime of public service are treated fairly by the Senate, judged on their merits, and allowed a vote.

Ms. Halligan’s credentials are impeccable. She was an honor student at both Princeton University and the Georgetown University Law Center, where she served as managing editor of the Georgetown Law Journal. She clerked for former D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Patricia Wald and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and she has served as counsel of record in more than 50 Supreme Court cases.  She has personally argued five cases before the Supreme Court.  She received the highest possible rating – unanimous well-qualified – from the non-partisan American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

Inspired by her parents, who were both teachers, Ms. Halligan has devoted her professional career primarily to public service.  Prior to law school, Ms. Halligan worked as a legislative aide for Representative William Alexander, Jr., focusing on health care and education for families in the Arkansas Delta region. She also worked at Georgians for Children, an organization dedicated to helping impoverished children and families.  As a lawyer, her pro bono work has included serving as counsel to the Board of Directors of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which was tasked with overseeing the revitalization of lower Manhattan after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She also represented victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

But where Ms. Halligan has truly made her mark is as a law enforcement lawyer.  She served for eight years in the New York State Attorney General’s Office, including more than five years as the Solicitor General of New York State.  During that time, she represented the State in criminal and civil cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, the New York Court of Appeals, and other federal and state courts, and she earned a reputation as one of the country’s leading appellate advocates.  Since 2010, she has been General Counsel of the New York County District Attorney’s Office, which investigates and prosecutes roughly 100,000 criminal cases in Manhattan every year.  Her work includes sharing management responsibilities over the Special Victims Bureau, Forensic Sciences/Cold Case Unit, and Crime Strategies Unit.

Ms. Halligan’s range of legal experience also encompasses private practice, including as head of the Appellate Practice at the firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, in New York. 

She is a “lawyer’s lawyer,” in the best sense of that term. She has advocated forcefully on behalf of her clients, both public and private, in keeping with the highest ethical ideals of the legal profession. Indeed, it is bedrock tenet of our legal system that lawyers and clients are not one and the same and that a client’s position should not be attributed as the views of the client’s lawyer.

Ms. Halligan has garnered numerous awards from the National Association of Attorneys General for her work, which has been praised by lawyers and former Supreme Court clerks from across the political spectrum. 

What’s more, the D.C. Circuit is in critical need of judges. Since Ms. Halligan was first nominated in 2010, two more judges have left the court, leaving this eleven-member court with four vacancies. It has never been this understaffed in its history.

In fact, until last month, for more than 40 years – and indeed, for all but five months since the seventh, eighth, and ninth seats were created and filled in 1949 – the court has had at least eight active judges.

The time has come to fill these important vacancies and to fill them with nominees of the caliber, reputation, and qualifications of Caitlin Halligan.

If Ms. Halligan were confirmed, half of the judges on the D.C. Circuit would be women – a historic milestone, as the first time a federal appellate court has had the same number of men and women. She is supported by the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations, the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the New York Women in Law Enforcement, the National Center for Women and Policing, and the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia.

Ms. Halligan also is strongly supported by law enforcement, including New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, former New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, the New York Association of Chiefs of Police, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, the National District Attorneys Association, and the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.

And, most important, Ms. Halligan is supported by a majority of U.S. Senators.

The only question remaining is whether Ms. Halligan will get the vote she and the American people deserve, or whether a minority in the Senate will block her consideration. 


Learn more:

See an infographic that details the negative impacts obstruction is having on our judicial system

Kathryn Ruemmler is Counsel to the President
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