AP Source: Obama to attempt to fill vacancy on DC appeals court, a very influential court

By Erica Werner, AP
Wednesday, September 29, 2010

AP source: Obama to tap NY lawyer for DC circuit

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is nominating an attorney from New York County’s district attorney’s office to a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

A government official said Wednesday that Obama was nominating Caitlin Halligan, general counsel at the D.A.’s office, to the court. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the nomination had not been made public.

The D.C. Circuit is considered the country’s most influential federal court aside from the Supreme Court and regularly handles high-profile cases such as lawsuits over Guantanamo Bay detainees.

It’s also something of a training ground for the high court. Four current Supreme Court justices served on the D.C. Circuit — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas.

The D.C. Circuit has two vacancies, and a conservative tilt, with six of the nine active judges having been nominated by Republicans.

However, the Senate has been slow to act on Obama’s nominees and already has a backlog of more than 20 judicial nominations. That’s led to complaints from Attorney General Eric Holder and others about a proliferation of vacancies on federal courts, although Republicans dispute accusations of obstructionism.

With Congress preparing to leave town this week ahead of midterm elections, it’s not clear how quickly, if at all, Halligan’s nomination could be considered.

Halligan served from 2001-2007 as solicitor general for New York state. She also has worked in private practice and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Peter Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University, where Halligan received her law degree, described her in an interview as “a superb lawyer, absolutely meticulous and thorough.”

Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.

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