Our Opinion: Partisan politics weakens U.S. court


If U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hadn't chickened out on filibuster reform at the start of this term the nation might have been spared the latest political fiasco depriving an important federal appeals court of a desperately needed new member. Instead, the nation received the latest of the almost daily examples of how partisan politics in Washington D.C. has poisoned everything it touches.

Wednesday, for the second time in three years, the eminently qualified Caitlin Halligan, a former solicitor general in New York state, received a majority vote for confirmation to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which hears most appeals related to national security issues and federal regulations. She did not receive 60 votes, however, which in this era of minority rule meant that she cannot get past a filibuster, a once rarely used tool that has been abused by Republicans in record numbers for the last four-plus years.

Senate Republicans claim to oppose Ms. Halligan because their friends in the NRA object to a brief she once wrote asserting that gun manufacturers share responsibility for the nation's gun problem (they do) and another brief arguing that illegal immigrants have a right to be paid by the companies that hire them (they do). Comically, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Ms. Halligan of judicial activism when the U.S. Supreme Court's right wing regular engages in that practice (Citizens United is a glaring example, the repeal of the Voting Rights Act will soon be another).

Ms. Halligan's views and legal briefs have far less to do with the GOP's opposition than does the party's desire to spite President Obama in general and protect the right wing's 4-3 majority on an important court now operating with four vacancies in particular. Ironically, Ms. Halligan was nominated to replace John Roberts who -- with the backing of Democratic votes -- was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he now serves as chief justice. Senate Republicans pay lip service to the integrity of the judicial system, but they deprive this and other federal courts of full memberships for purely partisan reasons, and are apparently willing to do so for eight years of the Obama administration. Mr. McConnell and his colleagues are primarily responsible for this travesty, but the Democrats' wishy-washy Senate leader carries his share as well.


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