Grassley, Harkin split over CIA director, appeals court judge confirmation

The U.S. Senate confirmed John Brennan yesterday as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. A cloture motion on Brennan’s nomination passed by 81 votes to 16. Senator Tom Harkin voted yes, as did all the Senate Democrats and most Republicans. Senator Chuck Grassley was one of the 16 Republicans who attempted to block Brennan’s nomination from coming to a vote. Senators then confirmed Brennan by 63 votes to 34. Again, Harkin voted yes, like all but two members of the Senate Democratic caucus. Grassley voted no, as did most of the Senate Republicans. I am disappointed but not surprised that most of the Senate Democrats went along with one of President Barack Obama’s worst cabinet appointments. If a Republican president had nominated someone with Brennan’s record on civil liberties, Democratic senators would have raised more serious questions.

I will update this post if I see any public comments from Harkin or Grassley on the Brennan confirmation vote.

Earlier this week, Grassley and 40 other Republicans successfully filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Joan Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Senate Republicans previously filibustered her nomination in 2011; President Barack Obama renominated her for the same position. Halligan is highly qualified, having argued many cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the National Rifle Association has lobbied Senate Republicans to oppose her. Grassley has not released any comment explaining his vote against cloture (ending debate) on Halligan’s nomination. After the jump I’ve posted a statement from the Iowa Fair Courts Coalition.

MARCH 22 UPDATE: President Obama withdrew Halligan’s nomination, saying she had requested that action. In a written statement, the president commented, “This unjustified filibuster obstructed the majority of Senators from expressing their support. I am confident that with Caitlin’s impressive qualifications and reputation, she would have served with distinction.”

March 6 press release from Iowa Fair Courts Coalition:

Senator Grassley Continues Pattern of Obstruction of Qualified Judges to Vacant Seats

(Des Moines, IA)-Today the U.S. Senate failed to reach enough votes to achieve cloture for Caitlin Halligan, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – widely considered the second most important court in the country, after the Supreme Court. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the Ranking Minority Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, voted against Halligan, leaving the circuit court with four vacancies. If confirmed, Halligan would have been only the sixth woman to serve on the DC Circuit in 119 years.

The Iowa Fair Courts Coalition includes: One Iowa, Americans for Democratic Action, Working Families Win, and the Iowa Citizen Action Network.

Statement from Iowa Fair Courts Coalition:

“The Iowa Fair Courts Coalition is appalled that Senator Grassley has continued his pattern of needlessly obstructing qualified judges like Caitlin Halligan. Halligan is a highly competent judge, and her experience in public service and law enforcement would have been a valuable addition to the D.C. Circuit Court. Additionally, she would have been only the sixth woman to serve in 119 years. Senator Grassley and Senate Republicans had the opportunity to confirm this exemplary judge, but instead chose to filibuster her confirmation vote. At a time when the D.C. Circuit Court is facing four vacancies, justice delayed is truly justice denied.

The Iowa Fair Courts Coalition is committed to holding our political leaders accountable for any delays in confirming qualified nominations to fill judicial vacancies. We call on Senator Grassley to end obstruction for obstruction’s sake and swiftly confirm qualified judges. The American people deserve justice, not partisan politics at its worst.”

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Background on Halligan & the D.C. Circuit Court

The D.C. Circuit has sole responsibility for deciding cases having to do with the balance of powers of the branches of government and decisions made by government agencies affecting issues like health care, national security, environmental rules, and consumer protections and workplace safety. More U.S. Supreme Court justices have come from the D.C. Circuit than any other circuit court, including four current Justices.

Halligan was first nominated in 2010 and brings a wealth of experience to a court that is facing a troubling number of vacancies. She has devoted her career to public service, currently serving as General Counsel of the Manhattan District Attorney. Halligan would have been only the sixth woman to serve on the D.C. Circuit in 119 years. The court impacts all Americans because it hears cases on the balance of powers of the branches of government, as well as decisions made by government agencies affecting issues like health care, national security, environmental rules, consumer protections, and workplace safety.

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  • More on the Halligan nomination

    from Daily Kos

    But this time, her past legal battles against gun manufacturers are making the road harder for Halligan, whose nomination is opposed by the National Rifle Association.

    “That’s probably the biggest of three or four issues,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said when asked about Halligan’s views on guns.

    Grassley said he didn’t expect any Republicans to switch their votes to support Halligan or to support cloture.  […]

    As solicitor general of New York in 2003, Halligan signed on to a case pursued in state court by Eliot Spitzer, then state attorney general, that gun manufacturers should be held liable for the use of their products by third parties.

    One of the comments said Grassley’s concerns were B.S. with the following quote from Halligan’s testimony:

    SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Well, that’s pretty clear, so I won’t have to follow up with another question I had on that subject.

    On the Second Amendment, in 2003 you gave a speech expressing concern about federal legislation to limit the liability of gun manufacturers. You said, quote, “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,” end of quote. Many who opposed the Second Amendment rights made similar arguments against – after the Supreme Court decided Heller.

    Do you personally agree that the Second Amendment protects individual rights to keep and bear arms?

    MS. HALLIGAN: The Supreme Court has been clear about that. Yes, it does protect individual rights to bear arms, Senator.

    SEN. GRASSLEY: And would you say that making it a functional right under McDonald was something you agree with as well?

    MS. HALLIGAN: That’s clearly what the Supreme Court held and I would follow that precedent, Senator.