By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — A cursory glance suggests that Caitlin Halligan is superbly qualified for a judgeship on the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals.
Her resume overflows with top-notch achievements: degrees from Princeton and Georgetown Law, clerkships with two respected judges, experience in the public and private sectors, accolades from colleagues and adjunct faculty status at two venerable law schools.
What’s not to love?
Yet Republicans in the U.S. Senate, where Halligan’s name will come for a confirmation vote sometime this week, aren’t ready to give her the green light, more than three years after President Obama nominated her.
The judgeship is key for at least two reasons: The D.C. Circuit is regarded as a stepping stone to the U.S. Supreme Court, with four high court justices holding circuit service before being elevated. The D.C. Circuit also reviews challenges to federal agency rule making.
GOP senators, led by Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley of Iowa, would deny Halligan the privilege of holding the enviable post.
“Ms. Halligan was leading the charge in suing gun manufacturers for the criminal acts committed by third parties. She wasn’t just representing a client. This was an activist act,” said Grassley after 45 GOP senators banded together to filibuster her nomination in December 2011. “Those lawsuits, of course, were based on meritless legal theories, and were specifically designed to drive gun manufacturers out of business.”
In the 2001 case, New York v. Sturm, Ruger Co., New York sought to hold firearms manufacturers liable for crimes committed with handguns. During the challenge, Halligan worked as New York’s solicitor general and helped prepare the state’s brief.
The New York appellate court soundly rejected the argument in June 2003.
Halligan’s defenders, including the ultra-liberal Media Matters for America, point out that then-New York Attorney General Elliott Spitzer, not Halligan, led the charge against the Southport, Conn.-based gun manufacturer.
Her opponents counter that Halligan was far from merely following Spitzer’s orders but was an enthusiastic participant in the suit. They point to her own words in opposing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a 2005 law that shields gun manufacturers from being held responsible for deaths caused by their products. That law passed Congress with wide bipartisan support.
During a May 5, 2003, speech in White Plains, N.Y., Halligan derided the pending PLCAA, saying that ”(i)f enacted, this legislation would nullify lawsuits brought by nearly 30 cities and counties —including one filed by my office — as well as scores of lawsuits brought by individual victims or groups harmed by gun violence. … Such an action would likely cut off at the pass any attempt by States to find solutions — through the legal system or their own legislatures — that might reduce gun crime or promote greater responsibility among gun dealers.”
For further evidence of Halligan’s anti-gun leanings, Republicans point to her direct challenge of the PLCAA itself. In 2006, Halligan, Spitzer and their colleagues filed an amicus brief in New York City’s case against Beretta, another popular gun manufacturer. The document argued that the PLCAA represented a massive federal overreach on state sovereignty.
Critics suggest Republicans simply seek to continue a long legacy of anti-Obama obstructionism and that Halligan certainly qualifies for the esteemed post.
On the Halligan nod, New York Times blogger Lincoln Caplan wrote last month “there is no good reason to vote against her.” He said her February 2011 testimony in front of the Senate committee proves she’s a gun-rights devotee.
Here’s the exchange to which Caplan refers:
Grassley: “Do you personally agree that the Second Amendment protects individual rights to keep and bear arms?”
Halligan: “The Supreme Court has been clear about that. Yes, it does protect individual rights to bear arms, senator.”
The answer didn’t persuade Grassley. In a March 23, 2011, news release, the powerful Iowa senator suggested that Halligan may not have been completely forthcoming about “her anti-gun stance.”
The Senate Republican Policy Committee, in a brief posted Tuesday, echoed Grassley’s sentiment. “Her answers to those queries demonstrate a lack of candor and forthrightness,” the document says.
Pro-gun groups have actively opposed Halligan’s prolonged nomination. In a 2011 letter, the National Rifle Association urged senators to deny her the judgeship based on her PLCAA opposition.
The more moderate Gun Owners of America blasted a message to supporters this week asking them contact their senators to oppose Halligan. In the letter, the group warned she embraces a “public hatred for firearms” and “zealotry inside the courtroom.”
Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a staunch Halligan backer, needs five Republican defectors to defeat the coming filibuster. Two possible candidates: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who wants an up-or-down vote on judges, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who supported Halligan in committee last month.
Contact: Dustin@Watchdog.org or @DustinHurst via Twitter.
Note: Tori Richards contributed to this post.