“We are going to bring nominee after nominee after nominee up to fill that D.C. Circuit,” he vowed, in a room where he was the only senator in the chamber. “Are they going to continue to filibuster every nominee and find some trivial excuse to filibuster him or her? Because that is what is going to happen.”
After about an hour of debate, a vote was called. Senators streamed in, standing together in small groups with members of their own party. They chatted, laughed, and compared ties with one another. They patted one another on the back and they laughed at each other’s jokes.
The 60-vote threshold to shut off debate failed, 51-to-41. Only one Republican — Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska — joined 50 Democrats in trying to move forward to a vote. Eight senators — four from each party — didn’t cast a vote.
After it failed, they slowly filed out from the chamber.
Democrats say that Republicans are stretching the limits of an agreement that emerged from the so-called “Gang of 14,” a bipartisan group of senators that formed in 2005 to forge compromise after a series of Democratic filibusters of Republican judicial nominees. Under that agreement, fillibusters would end in “all but extraordinary circumstances.”
Republicans believe Halligan falls in that category; Democrats disagree.
But for Republicans last week, there was some solice in revenge. Ten years earlier to the day, they noted, Democrats had filibustered one of President George W. Bush’s nominees to the same court. Democrats had criticized attorney Miguel Estrada for being too inexperienced, for being too conservative, and for being on the legal team that represented Bush in Bush v. Gore.
Like Halligan, Estrada was deemed “well qualified” by the American Bar Association. Among those who had led the charge against Estrada were many of the same senators leading the charge for Halligan: Schumer, Reid, Durbin.
Democrats had also never acted on Peter Keisler, an attorney whom President George W. Bush nominated several times to replace Roberts once he left for the Superme Court.
“It’s just a shame her nomination failed because of the pathetic politics of Washington,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said of Halligan on her way out.
With the Senate’s failure to vote, the status quo remained intact. Four seats continue to remain vacant at the D.C. Circuit Court, and President Obama once again had failed to put a nominee, and his imprint, on this critical court.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.