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White House pushes for vote on contentious D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee

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Facing the stiffest Republican opposition to a judicial nominee in two years, the White House is pushing for a confirmation vote this week on Caitlin Halligan's appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday said Republican opponents to Ms. Halligan should back down and confirm her without delay.

The D.C. Circuit Court is hamstrung, he said, because the Senate has refused to confirm anyone since President Obama took office. There are currently four vacancies on the bench, two of which opened up since Ms. Halligan was first nominated in September 2010.

The nearly two-year delay in confirming "someone as clearly well-qualified as Ms. Halligan who has bipartisan support from lawyers and law enforcement" is particularly disappointing, Mr. Carney said. "In fact, the court has never been this understaffed in its history, and the caseload has increased almost 15 percent since 2011," he said.

Republicans, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions, ardently oppose Ms. Halligan's confirmation, arguing that she has taken extreme positions on gun rights, abortion and the war on terror.

They take particular exception to her views on the role federal courts should play on the detention and trial of terror suspects and enemy combatants. The D.C. Circuit plays a critical role in national security matters, including deciding the habeas petitions of terrorism suspects.

As a member of the New York City Bar Association's Committee on the Federal Courts, she jointed a 2004 report that came to the conclusion that the U.S. does not have the authority to indefinitely detain enemy combatants.

Republicans filibustered her nomination in December 2011 and repeatedly used Senate rules to send her nomination back to the White House. The White House has responded by renominating Ms. Halligan, the general counsel of the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, backed down on threats to make major changes to filibuster rules at the beginning of this year. But Monday he said Republicans were not upholding their end of the bargain and by opposing Ms. Halligan are breaking a promise not to obstruct confirmations "for the sake of obstruction."

If Republicans continue to hold up judicial nominations, Mr. Reid said the Senate's inaction "will also have consequences."

The White House on Tuesday released an infographic on whitehouse.gov claiming that 78 percent of Mr. Obama's circuit judge nominations have waited more than 100 days for a vote, compared to 15 percent of President Bush's nominees.

Mr. Carney highlighted the information on a powerpoint slide during his Tuesday briefing with reporters. A second slide claimed that Mr. Obama's district court nominees have faced similar delays with 42 percent having waited more than 100 days for a vote, compared to 8 percent of Bush's nominees.

Overall, Mr. Carney said Mr. Obama's judicial nominees have waited three to four times as long to get a Senate vote than those Mr. Bush nominated.

But Republicans, and some critics of the president on the left, counter that Mr. Obama is to blame for the delays because he has not made judicial nominations a priority, has been slow to nominate judges for the federal bench and is trying to play catch-up in his second term.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Obama's two Supreme Court nominations sucked up a lot of the Senate's time and since then the president only recently has started making judicial nominations a serious priority.

Still, Mr. Carney pointed to some positive signs of a potential break to the logjam on Capitol Hill when it comes to confirming judges.

Last year, Senate Democratic and Republican leaders hashed out a deal to confirm more than a dozen judges.
"We certainly hope that the spirit that informs that change, modest as it has been, will inform the vote the Senate takes on Caitlin Halligan," he said.

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