The Senate on Wednesday confirmed John “Jack” McConnell to the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, voting along party lines, 50-44.
McConnell’s confirmation was made possible when 11 Republicans earlier joined the Democrats in a 63-33 vote to invoke cloture. Those votes should be seen as a statement on the confirmation process, that is, trying to dial back the partisan conflict that afflicts consideration of judicial nominees.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who voted for cloture but against confirmation, made the case this way:
[The] Senate is a body of precedent. One important precedent is that never in Senate history has a President’s district court nomination reported by the Judiciary Committee been defeated because of a filibuster, that is, because of a cloture vote. Once a nominee for federal district judge has gotten to the floor, the majority of senators have made the decision in an up-or-down vote.
Therefore, I will vote today for cloture in order to allow an up-or-down vote on the President’s nomination of John McConnell. Then, I will vote “no” on confirmation because I believe he is a flawed nominee.
Flawed is a gentle description. McConnell is probably the worst judicial nominee that President Obama has put forward.
As a trial lawyer with Motley Rice, McConnell made millions of dollars from the state lawsuits against tobacco companies and he will continue to make millions in deferred compensation as a sitting judge! He worked with then Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse to invent a new “public nuisance” claim that state filed against paint manufacturers over lead paint, hoping again to use a contingency-fee arrangement to make millions for his firm and himself.
These contingency-fee arrangements inherently represent a conflict, where the law firms put their interests ahead of the state. They also leave the stink of “pay to play,” where the lawyers redistribute part of their big winnings in political contributions. McConnell was the state Democratic Party Treasurer and a huge political contributor to campaigns all across the nation.
McConnell also appears to view business as a pernicious creature fit only to be sued. As Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) detailed in a thorough Senate floor statement Tuesday:
Mr. McConnell has said that based upon his experience, he has absolutely no confidence that certain industries will ever do the right thing and that they will only do the right thing when they are sued and forced to by a jury trial.
Now, given his tendency to view lawsuits against businesses as a movement against societal injustice, it’s difficult to see how Mr. McConnell could put those personal views aside and to give all litigants in his courtroom a fair trial, a right to which they are guaranteed under our Constitution and laws.
And I believe a vote to allow Mr. McConnell’s nomination is a vote to create yet another court where trial lawyers to repeatedly prevail in frivolous litigation against American businesses and that is something we ought not to allow.
Mr. McConnell’s behavior during his career demonstrates a lack of ethics and temperament necessary to serve as a federal judge.
I would hope a president would never appoint someone like Jack McConnell, but apparently everyone makes mistakes, including this nomination by this President.
Let’s hope it’s a mistake that’s never repeated.
- Point of Law, “Senate invokes cloture, confirms Jack McConnell to federal bench“
- Providence Journal, “Third time the charm: McConnell confirmed“
- Washington Times, “Up-down vote gives Obama 20th 2011 judicial OK”
- Legal News Line, “Senate affirms trial lawyer’s nomination to federal judgeship“
Note: We edited this post 10 minutes after its original post to add Sen. Alexander’s remarks.