I have written before about John “Jack” McConnell, Jr., a major Democratic Party campaign donor who had been nominated by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to an open seat on the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island.
In addition to questions surrounding the propriety of nominating someone who had donated several hundred thousand dollars to Democrats — including many in the Senate who would vote on his confirmation — there were allegations that McConnell’s law firm had misrepresented certain fees it earned during lead paint litigation for which it was hired by then Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. The Ocean State Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank, had served a public records request seeking information on the fee arrangement, but was rebuffed by McConnell’s law firm and the state.
McConnell’s name was left off the list of judicial nominees set for a floor vote over the summer, after Republican objections, which meant McConnell’s nomination had to go back to the Judiciary Committee. The nomination is coming up for committee vote today, but Republicans have indicated they still will not allow the nomination to get to the floor. Lindsay Graham was the only Republican to vote for McConnell the first time McConnell came up for a Judiciary Comittee vote.
As reported by The Providence Journal:
With the Senate Judiciary Committee slated to renew on Thursday its consideration of John J. McConnell Jr. for a federal judgeship in Rhode Island, the ranking Republican on the panel has predicted that the Providence lawyer’s nomination won’t be brought up for a Senate confirmation vote this year.
“Harry Reid can bring these names up any time he wishes, but I don’t think he will,” Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said Tuesday, referring to the Nevada Democrat who is Senate majority leader. Sessions suggested that Democrats will have reason to worry if “the American people hear of the backgrounds” of McConnell and four other liberal judicial candidates whose nominations were sent back to the White House last month.
If Sessions is correct, and if the Democrats lose Senate seats in the coming election, prospects could dwindle in the new Congress for seating McConnell on the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island. Democrat McConnell, 51, is a successful and outspoken plaintiffs attorney who appears to have given more money to federal election campaigns than any of the nearly 1,500 nominees to the U.S. Courts since the late 1980s.
For more background on the McConnell nomination, see my prior posts:
- The Most Important Judicial Nominee You Never Heard Of Is On Ice
- How Much Does A Federal Judgeship Cost? $432,000
- The Most Important Judicial Nomination You Never Heard Of Set For Vote Today
- Will Obama Really Fight For This Judicial Nominee?
Update: Sheldon Whitehouse, during the hearings, spoke in favor of McConnell, and made an unbelievable statement (my informal transcript): “McConnell may not be the most appropriate nominee for Oklahoma, Arizona or Alabama” but Senate always has deferred to judgment of home state Senators. Whitehouse is treating judicial nominees like political nominees — but this is a lifetime federal judicial nomination. Shouldn’t there be a single standard, since judicial decisions can have national implications?
Whitehouse also implicitly threatened retribution to future Republican nominees if there were a filibuster of McConnell. Whitehouse said that “a warning after the fact no longer is a warning.”
The Providence Journal reports on the vote today (note that Whitehouse’s claim that a filibuster never has been threatened for a District Court Judge was wrong)(emphasis mine):
The vote was 13 to 6 with one Republican, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joining the Democrats in the majority….
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said that he believes a few district court nominees, including McConnell, have been subjected to “unprecedented procedural obstruction” by the GOP. Whitehouse warned that if Republicans filibuster local federal trial court nominations endorsed by their home state senators — as has been the case with McConnell — “an important tradition of Senate comity will have been permanently set aside.”
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee, told reporters after the hearing that then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, threatened to filibuster his nomination to a U.S. District Court seat in Alabama. Sessions later requested that then President Reagan withdraw his nomination.
Update No. 2: The Ocean State Policy Research Institute has issued a press release detailing its request for records regarding McConnell’s handling of the lead paint litigation.