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Richard Burr 2Those looking for some good news from the nation’ capital — any good news — got a small dose over the weekend in this story in the New York Times about the Obama administration’s progress in restoring a measure of balance to the federal judiciary. As the Times reported, after five years and an important rule change to limit the use of the filibuster in the Senate, the federal courts are, today, somewhat less completely under the thumb of the corporate and ideological right.

The shift, one of the most significant but unheralded accomplishments of the Obama era, is likely to have ramifications for how the courts decide the legality of some of the president’s most controversial actions on health care, immigration and clean air. Since today’s Congress has been a graveyard for legislative accomplishment, these judicial confirmations are likely to be among its most enduring acts.

One ongoing and absurd exception to this progress, however, is Senator Richard Burr’s shameful and unexplained blockade of federal District Court nominee Jennifer May-Parker, which is now going on 15 months old. Given the progress that the U.S. Senate has made in this realm by dispensing with filibuster on such matters, let’s hope Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont soon takes the next logical step by doing away with the obsolete and egregiously-abused “blue slip” rule that is enabling Burr’s petulant, one-man Jess Helms impersonation.

Read the entire Times article by clicking here.

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed a “cloture” motion on the filibuster that’s been blocking the nomination of Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to serve on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This means that the Senate should vote around 5:30 this afternoon.

Unfortunately, conservatives in the Senate continue to adhere to their trasparently dishonest public argument that “the court doesn’t have enough cases to justify filling vacant seats” — an argument that continues to provoke almost universal disdain from a long list of mainstream experts and analysts.

The following, for instance, is from Richard Painter — a corproate law professor who served in the George W. Bush White House — writing for the American Constitution Society: Read More

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While Sen. Rand Paul was filibustering last week over drones, his Republican colleagues were engaged in stalling tactics of another sort, designed to prevent federal judicial nominees from ever taking their seats on the bench.

In this New Yorker piece today, Jeffrey Toobin explains why judicial appointments are becoming “one of the great missed opportunities of the Obama Presidency.”

Case in point: Caitlin Halligan, Obama’s nominee for the  D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals — considered the second most important court in the nation:

A majority of the Senate voted to bring up the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but forty-one Republican Senators voted to prevent her from receiving consideration. This is the modern version of the filibuster, far more common than Paul’s thirteen-hour speech. Without sixty votes, it’s now virtually impossible to accomplish anything in the contemporary United States Senate.

This was the second time that Halligan received majority support, but, because she never passed the threshold of sixty, her nomination now appears doomed. And so, in the fifth year of his Presidency, Obama has failed to place even a single judge on the D.C. Circuit. . . [which] now has four vacancies out of eleven seats.

Halligan is widely viewed by attorneys on both sides of the aisle as impeccably qualified to sit on the bench.  So what’s the problem? It turns out that while working in the New York Attorney General’s office Halligan wrote a brief supporting the efforts of her boss, Andrew Cuomo, “to make gun manufacturers legally responsible for some of the violence in New York, a position that the National Rifle Association opposed. The N.R.A. punished Halligan for doing her job for New York, and the Senate Republicans followed.”