A picture of Senator Christopher A. Coons
Chris C.
Democrat DE

About Sen. Chris
  • Health Care

    by Senator Christopher A. Coons

    Posted on 2013-03-05

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    COONS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. COONS. Mr. President, the Founders of our country, committed to justice and fairness for all its citizens and in establishing a structure that would make this country uniquely strong as a democracy, gave us three coequal branches of our government. Two of those branches have dominated the national news recently as we lurch from crisis to crisis, from fiscal cliff to sequester. The back-and-forth between the President and Congress, between the executive and the legislative branches, has been the headline day after day.

    Meanwhile, the third coequal branch, the judicial branch of our Federal Government, has quietly gone about its business, doing its job for the American people, providing fair hearings, equal justice under the law, the basic right to a speedy resolution to any dispute--or has it? All around this country members of the judicial branch are getting their jobs done but with fewer and fewer resources and support, fewer colleagues on the bench than ever before. Nearly 10 percent of all Federal judgeships--positions for Federal judges that should be filled--are vacant, empty, leaving those judges who are on the bench overwhelmed with steadily increasing caseloads and unable to provide the level of service, certainty, and swift resolution that the American people deserve and upon which our government was predicated.

    Particularly when you are the one going into court seeking redress or when you are the one facing legal action, justice delayed is justice denied. As a member of the Delaware bar and a former Federal court clerk myself, as well as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have seen firsthand the consequences of this ongoing, slow-rolling crisis in our Federal courts.

    Right now we have more than double the judicial vacancies we had at the same point in the last administration. The Senate has confirmed 30 fewer of President Obama's nominees than it had of President Bush's at this same time.

    One of the most underresourced circuits is right here under our nose in Washington, DC. The DC Circuit is often called the second most important court in the land. Although it may not make the headlines, it may not be as visible to the American people as this ongoing fight between the Congress and the President, the DC Circuit decides issues of national importance, from terrorism and detention to the scope of agency power. It has importance to every American, not just the ones who happen to live in the District of Columbia, and yet its bench is almost half empty.

    Congress has set the number of judgeships needed by the DC Circuit Court at 11, and right now they have just 7. President Bush had the opportunity to appoint four judges to the DC Circuit, including the 10th judicial position twice and the 11th judicial position once. Yet President Obama has been denied the opportunity to make even a single appointment to the DC [[Page S1114]] Circuit Court despite four vacancies. As a result, the per-judge caseload is today 50 percent higher than it was after President Bush had the opportunity to fill that last, the 11th seat. And in terms of our obligation to this coequal branch, our obligation to the citizens of the United States, and our obligation to provide an opportunity for justice, that is an outrage.

    Today the Senate has the opportunity to take up and consider a highly qualified nominee to fill one of these vacancies, to start to do our job and bring this vital circuit court closer to full capacity. We can do that by confirming the nomination of a brilliant lawyer and a dedicated public servant named Caitlin Halligan.

    Ms. Halligan, with whom I have met, has been nominated to the DC Circuit Court and renominated to the DC Circuit Court and renominated to the DC Circuit Court across three sessions of Congress--the 111th, 112th, and 113th. She has been nominated because of her superb qualifications and her impressive personal background.

    She worked in private practice at a respected New York law firm. She served in public service as solicitor general for the State of New York. She is currently the general counsel of the New York County District Attorney's Office--an office that investigates and prosecutes 100,000 criminal cases every year.

    Ms. Halligan has earned the support of her colleagues in law enforcement and across the spectrum. Everyone, from New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly to preeminent conservative lawyer Miguel Estrada, has supported her nomination. The American Bar Association's standing committee unanimously gave her its ranking of highest qualification to serve: ``highly qualified.'' Yet Ms. Halligan has had to face, in my view, outrageous distortions of her record that cause one to wonder if any nominee to this circuit would be acceptable on their merits.

    Ms. Halligan has withstood steady and withering political attacks on positions she advocated while solicitor general for the State of New York, positions she argued on behalf of her client--New York State and its attorney general--not positions that represented her own personal views. If you reflect on this, it is, as all practicing attorneys know, inappropriate to disqualify a judicial candidate because she advocated a position for a client with which a certain Senator might disagree or which has been rejected by a court. This fundamental principle that you do not associate an attorney with a position advocated in court has been widely shared, widely supported, and, in fact, Chief Justice Roberts himself said: It's a tradition of the American Bar that goes back before the founding of the country that lawyers are not identified with the positions of their clients.

    Even so, Ms. Halligan's positions on issues such as, for example, marriage and States rights have hardly been radical. When asked to analyze New York's marriage law, she concluded that the State statute did not provide same-sex couples with the right to marry. When presented with the question of whether a ban on same-sex marriage was legal under the New York Constitution, she merely said that there were arguments for and against and that it should be left to the courts to decide. What could be more modest than deciding that a constitutional question should be decided by the courts and not the executive branch? Yet I have heard on this floor and elsewhere her positions on this and other issues mischaracterized as extreme, as out of the mainstream. In my view, this position demonstrates her great respect for our judicial process and proves that if this body confirms her to the bench, she would fairly and faithfully apply precedent in making important decisions on the DC Circuit.

    She told us directly on the Judiciary Committee that she would respect and apply precedent in other important cases--cases that touch on the second amendment, such as the District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, cases that held that the second amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. I am confident, despite what we have heard spun in the press about Ms. Halligan's position, that she would faithfully respect precedent in these cases.

    So in these two areas, I think we can see that Caitlin Halligan is not a radical or an ideologue. She is an attorney, she is a lawyer--and a good one. In my view, having reviewed her qualifications, having sat through meetings, and having looked at her record, she has earned her nomination to the DC Circuit Court. She deserves this Senate to get out of the way and to stop this endless delay of consideration of qualified candidates for the bench and let her get to work.

    Today the Senate has an opportunity, a chance to do the right thing, to stop endless partisan political games, to break through our gridlock and get something done in the interest of the American people and especially those who seek swift and sure justice.

    Every individual and business in this country has the fundamental right to a fair and fast trial, to access to the judicial system, and to the hearing of their appeals in an appropriate and timely manner. And judicial vacancies and understaffed courts at the district and the circuit level are denying them that right. This Senate and its dysfunction are denying them that right. So today I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do our job, to confirm Caitlin Halligan and recommit ourselves to moving forward in a productive and bipartisan way.

    Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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