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Obama withdraws judicial nominee blocked twice by Republicans

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the sequester after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington March 1,
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the sequester after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House in Washington March 1,

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The White House on Friday admitted defeat on its choice of New York lawyer Caitlin Halligan for a judgeship on a powerful appeals court, withdrawing her nomination two weeks after Senate Republicans blocked her for the second time.

President Barack Obama expressed anger that Republicans would not permit a Senate vote even as Halligan appeared to have the support of a majority of senators.

"I am deeply disappointed that even after nearly two and a half years, a minority of senators continued to block a simple up-or-down vote on her nomination," he said in a statement.

Halligan was nominated for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely considered the second most influential U.S. court after the Supreme Court.

The court hears many regulatory cases important to businesses, and the judges on it are often considered for elevation to the high court.

Halligan wrote in a one-paragraph letter to Obama that it was a "tremendous honor" to be nominated but that "the time has come for me to respectfully ask that you withdraw my pending nomination."

Halligan, the general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney's office, did not respond to a request for comment.

In a procedure known as a filibuster, Republicans voted against ending debate on Halligan's nomination in December 2011 and again on March 6.

In both instances, a majority of the Senate voted to end debate and put her nomination to a vote, but she fell short of the 60 votes needed to defeat a filibuster. Democrats control only 55 seats, and legislators largely voted along party lines.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the lone Republican to vote in Halligan's favor on March 6.

Republicans said they were concerned about Halligan's legal "activism" during her time as New York's state solicitor general from 2001 to 2006.

They zeroed in on arguments she made on behalf of the state that gun manufacturers should be held accountable for violent crimes committed with weapons they had made.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called it an example of "how activists on the far left" use courts to try to remake policy.

The National Rifle Association, a gun rights lobbying group, strongly opposed Halligan's nomination.

In a statement, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the judiciary committee chairman, said "narrow, special interests" had influenced Republicans to block Halligan's confirmation.

Halligan became the latest rallying cry for Democrats who claim Republicans have abused the filibuster to prevent Obama from filling several vacancies on the District of Columbia Circuit.

Both parties have blocked judicial nominees over the years, with Democrats moving to stymie certain nominees during the administration of George W. Bush.

Obama is the first president in 50 years who failed to make an appointment to the court during a full term. The 11-seat court has four vacancies, a situation Obama called "unacceptable" on Friday.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Todd Eastham)

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