One of President Obama’s most important judicial nominations has gone down to defeat, thanks in large part to the National Rifle Association.

Next to the Supreme Court, the most important court in the country is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The D.C. Circuit is a junior varsity Supreme court, hearing most of the big cases coming out of the nation’s capital, and with Supreme Court-caliber judges.

America has 13 federal appeals courts and 50 state supreme courts from which U.S. Supreme Court justices can be chosen (as well as occasional non-judge nominees, such as Elena Kagan).

Yet of all the judges on those 63 courts, four of the nine justices in the Supreme Court were D.C. Circuit judges. (John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) It is a stepping-stone to the Supreme Court.

Obama nominated former New York Solicitor General Caitlin Halligan to the D.C. Circuit. She was a top Georgetown Law grad who clerked for the D.C. Circuit and for Justice Stephen Breyer. She has a superlative resume and she’s only 44 years old. She would have topped the short list for the next Supreme Court vacancy if Obama is reelected.

But she also had a record of hostility to gun rights. She passionately tried to take down the NRA’s signature tort-reform legislation in 2005 protecting gun makers from liability when criminals use firearms. And she was outspoken in her opposition to the NRA and the 2nd Amendment.

So for only the second time in its 140-year history, the NRA weighed in against a judicial nominee below the Supreme Court level. In 1979, the NRA opposed Rep. Abner Mikva’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit, who was nonetheless confirmed.

But then Wayne LaPierre became the NRA’s CEO and built it into a political powerhouse. And Charlton Heston became the NRA’s president, increasing its membership to over four million.

This time, the NRA succeeded. And on Tuesday, following a full-court press by the NRA, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada failed to get 60 votes to bring Halligan’s nomination to a final vote.

It's a sobering reminder of the power of the NRA and 2nd Amendment supporters going into a presidential election year.


Examiner contributor Ken Klukowski covers the federal courts.