D.C. Circuit nominee clears Senate Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to approve Caitlin Halligan to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The committee -- the first hurdle in the confirmation process -- originally approved Halligan on a 10-8 party line vote during an executive business meeting held to consider pending nominations and legislation. However, there was a change in the tally. Daniel Taylor, press assistant for the committee's majority office, said in an email later Thursday that Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., changed his vote from "no" to "present," bringing the tally to 10-7 instead of 10-8. Graham had voted "no" in committee the last time Halligan was reported back, in 2011, Taylor noted. "Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for the D.C. Circuit," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. "Ms. Halligan has the experience, integrity and judgment to serve with distinction on this court, which now stands more than a third vacant. Her broad bipartisan support from the legal and law enforcement communities should lead to swift confirmation." During the last congressional session, the U.S. Senate failed to confirm Halligan, who currently serves as general counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and is a former New York solicitor general, along with Srikanth Srinivasan, principal deputy solicitor general of the United States. President Barack Obama renominated Halligan and Srinivasan, along with 31 others, last month. "Today, I am re-nominating 33 highly qualified candidates for the federal bench, including many who could have and should have been confirmed before the Senate adjourned," Obama said in a Jan. 3 statement. "Several have been awaiting a vote for more than six months, even though they all enjoy bipartisan support. I continue to be grateful for their willingness to serve and remain confident that they will apply the law with the utmost impartiality and integrity." He continued, "I urge the Senate to consider and confirm these nominees without delay, so all Americans can have equal and timely access to justice." Halligan was originally nominated in September to fill the seat left behind in 2005 by John Roberts, now chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Srinivasan was first nominated in June to take over for A. Raymond Randolph, who took senior status in 2008. That still leaves two vacancies on the D.C. Circuit with no nominations -- that of Douglas H. Ginsburg, who took senior status in October 2011, and David Sentelle's seat. On Tuesday, Sentelle, who was appointed to the D.C. Circuit in October 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and served as chief judge since February 2008, took senior status. The D.C. Circuit is considered by some to be the second most important court in the country, after the U.S. Supreme Court. The court often is responsible for resolving critically important cases involving the separation of powers, the role of government, the rights of federal officials, and the decisions of a vast array of administrative agencies. In fact, the D.C. Circuit ruled last month that Obama's "intrasession appointment" of three new members to the National Labor Relations Board was an unconstitutional abuse of power because he could not make those appointments without U.S. Senate confirmation because the Senate was not in recess. However, the court currently has more vacancies than any other federal appeals court. From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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