Tuesday December 06, 2011 | 04:25 PM

Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine joined all but one other Republican today in blocking the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

 

A number of Senate Republicans cited Halligan’s stances on gun rights and detention of terrorist suspects in making the case that the nominee is an ultra-liberal with an overly activist judicial philosophy.

President Obama charged in a statement that Halligan “fell victim to the Republican pattern of obstructionism that puts party ahead of country. Today’s vote dramatically lowers the bar used to justify a filibuster, which had required ‘extraordinary circumstances.’  The only extraordinary things about Ms. Halligan are her qualifications and her intellect,” Obama said.

But Collins told reporters on Capitol Hill that she voted against the former New York state solicitor general because the seat has been vacant for six years and is no longer needed because the D.C. Circuit’s case load is on the wane.

“The reason that I voted against proceeding was because of the work load of that circuit. That particular seat has been vacant for six years and the work load has declined during that period of time,” Collins said, saying it cost more than $1 million a year to establish a federal judgeship. “It’s clear to me that the size of this circuit needs to be shrunk.”

(Updated at 6:20 p.m.: Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was among those pointing out that there are three vacancies currently on the D.C. Circuit, so two seats would remain vacant if Halligan is confirmed.

“My Republican colleagues might also say that the D.C. Circuit’s caseload does not support another judge, but they have short memories,” Feinstein said. "There are now three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. That means that Ms. Halligan would only fill the ninth seat, out of 11 on the Court. Two seats would remain vacant. However, my colleagues were not so concerned about this issue when President Bush’s appointees were before the Senate. In fact, my Republican colleagues supported filling the 10th seat on the Court twice, and the 11th seat once.”)

Snowe had not yet been reached for comment today on her vote to block the Halligan nomination from proceeding to a final Senate floor vote. Sixty votes were needed and with Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska the only Republican joining Democrats in voting to proceed, the procedural motion gained just 54 yes votes.

(Updated at 7:10 p.m.: Snowe said via email that she considered Halligan’s “legal background and qualifications very closely. It is essential that all litigants appearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which is often at the nexus of some of the most vital questions affecting federal laws and policies, have the expectation of an objective review of the facts and circumstances of any given case – and therefore it is incumbent upon us to thoroughly consider the record of every nominee for this circuit court.”

Snowe said, that, “Unfortunately, I have serious concerns about the nominee’s candor during her Judiciary Committee hearing.  There remain unresolved questions regarding her support for litigation challenging the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans and her role in drafting a 2004 report dealing with the detention of enemy combatants. As such, I opposed invoking cloture upon the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for a lifetime appointment to the second-most powerful federal court in our country.” 

Meanwhile, the campaign of one of two Democrats vying to run for Snowe’s seat next fall, state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, released a statement tonight criticizing Snowe’s vote and noting it was the second time this year Snowe has joined in a GOP judicial filibuster. Also running in the Democratic primary is former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town.

"Snowe continues to march in lockstep with the Republican Party, this time, politicizing the judiciary. It is a sad statement that only furthers the gridlock in Washington,” said Hinck’s campaign statement. “Once again, she's prevented qualified legal minds with impressive resumes from filling vacant seats in our judicial system. This was political and it shouldn't be tolerated.")

Snowe and Collins are part of a group of senators who have promised not to use the filibuster to block judicial nominees from receiving final Senate votes except under extraordinary circumstances.

However, in May, Snowe and Collins joined all but one Republican senator in voting to filibuster the nomination of Berkeley law professor Gordon Liu, President Obama's nominee for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A few weeks before the Liu vote, though, Snowe and Collins joined nine other Republicans in voting to break the filibuster by GOP leadership of a federal district court nominee, John McConnell of Rhode Island.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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