05.04.11

Senate Confirms Long Pending District Court Nomination

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, May 4, 2011) – The U.S. Senate Wednesday overcame a filibuster driven by Senate Republicans and confirmed a long-pending federal district court nomination.  A majority of the Senate voted to confirm district court nominee John McConnell to the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.

“There was no need for cloture to be filed on this nomination,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).  “There were no ‘extraordinary circumstances’ that held up this nomination for over a year.  Why was the Senate not able to reach a time agreement to debate and vote on this nomination last year?  It was the obstruction that prevented us from doing so.  It was wrong for the Senate to knuckle under to business lobbies and it was right for the Senate to reject that opposition.”

McConnell was first nominated by President Obama in March 2010.  He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2010, and his nomination was reported three times by the Committee, each time with bipartisan support.  Early Wednesday afternoon, a supermajority of the Senate voted on a procedural motion to bring debate to a close on the nomination.

“I congratulate Jack McConnell and his family on his confirmation today,” Leahy said.  “I commend Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse for their steadfast support and all they have done to ensure that the Senate vote on this nomination.”

The full text of Leahy’s remarks follow. 

There are 12 judicial nominations pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, including seven nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous support.  For more information about judicial nominations, visit the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website.

# # # # #

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,

On The Confirmation Of Jack McConnell

To The District Court For The District Of Rhode Island

May 4, 2011

Earlier today, the Senate took a step toward restoring a longstanding tradition of deference to home state Senators with regard to Federal District Court nominations.  The Senate turned away from what Senator Reed rightly called a precipice.  Eleven Republican Senators joined in voting to end a filibuster of the nomination of Jack McConnell to the District Court for the District of Rhode Island.  A super majority of the Senate came together to reject a new standard, which I believe is being unfairly applied to President Obama’s district court nominees.  Now, more than a year after his nomination, nearly a year after his confirmation hearing, and after having had his nomination reported positively by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee three times, the nomination of Jack McConnell will finally have an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

The Senate should have debate on judicial nominations, and Senators should be free to vote for or against any nomination.  A few hours ago the Senate voted to invoke cloture and now we are proceeding to hold a final confirmation vote on this nomination. 

There was no need for cloture to be filed on this nomination.  There were no “extraordinary circumstances” that held up this nomination for over a year.  Why was the Senate not able to reach a time agreement to debate and vote on this nomination last year?  It was the obstruction that prevented us from doing so.  It was wrong for the Senate to knuckle under to business lobbies and it was right for the Senate to reject that opposition.  

In fact, in the days leading up to the filibuster vote and in the hours since, no great number of Senators has spoken in opposition to this nomination.  Only a handful of Senators from the minority leadership spoke at all.  Only one such Senator has spoken in opposition since cloture was invoked.   

With judicial vacancies at crisis levels, affecting the ability of courts to provide justice to Americans around the country, we should be debating and voting on each of the 13 judicial nominations reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee and pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar.  No one should be playing partisan games and obstructing while vacancies remain above 90 in the Federal courts around the country. With one out of every nine Federal judgeships still vacant, and judicial vacancies around the country at 93, there is serious work to be done.

I will support the nomination of Jack McConnell, just as I have each of the three times it was before the Judiciary Committee.  Mr. McConnell is an outstanding lawyer.  He is supported by his home state Senators, Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse.  Each has spoken passionately and persuasively in support of his nomination. 

As I noted earlier, Mr. McConnell’s nomination has been reported by a bipartisan majority of the Judiciary Committee three times.  His nomination also has bipartisan support from those in his home state.  Leading Republican figures in Rhode Island have endorsed his nomination. They include First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bruce Selya; Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian; Rhode Island Chief Justice Joseph Weisberger; former Rhode Island Attorneys General Jeffrey Pine and Arlene Violet; former Director of the Rhode Island Department of Business Barry Hittner; former Rhode Island Republican Party Vice-Chair John M. Harpootian; and Third Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Fisher.

The strident opposition to this nomination has been fueled by the corporate lobby, who oppose Jack McConnell because he is a good lawyer.  They oppose him because he successfully represented plaintiffs, including the State of Rhode Island, in lawsuits against lead paint manufacturers.  Some in the Senate may support the lead paint industry. Some in the Senate may oppose those who wish to hold lead paint companies accountable for poisoning children.  That is their right.  But as I said earlier in opposing the filibuster of this nomination, nobody should oppose Mr. McConnell for doing what lawyers do – vigorously represent clients.

I also hope no Senator opposes this nomination based on what I believe to be a distortion of Mr. McConnell’s testimony before the Committee.  As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I take seriously the obligation of nominees appearing before the Committee to be truthful.  I would be the first Senator to raise an issue if there were any legitimate question as to the accuracy of Mr. McConnell’s testimony.  But there is not. 

Far from establishing that Mr. McConnell was untruthful with the Committee, the deposition transcript cited by some who oppose his nomination in fact validates Mr. McConnell’s testimony to the Committee.  There has been no inconsistency in Mr. McConnell’s testimony, either to the Committee or in sworn testimony in a deposition.  Jack McConnell is not a party to the lawsuit.  He has been accused of no wrongdoing.  There is no basis to believe that Mr. McConnell did not answer questions from members of the Committee truthfully.  Some Senators may feel strongly that Mr. McConnell and his firm were wrong to sue lead paint companies, but there is simply no basis believing that Mr. McConnell was untruthful with the Committee.  I hope other Senators will reject those conclusions.

With more than 25 years of experience as an outstanding litigator in private practice, Mr. McConnell has been endorsed by The Providence Journal, which wrote: “In his legal work and community leadership [he] has shown that he has the legal intelligence, character, compassion, and independence to be a distinguished jurist.”  This debate should focus on Mr. McConnell’s qualifications, experience, temperament, integrity, and character.  Any fair evaluation of his qualifications would reveal a nominee worthy of confirmation.

I congratulate Jack McConnell and his family on his confirmation today.  I commend Senator Reed and Senator Whitehouse for their steadfast support and all they have done to ensure that the Senate vote on this nomination.

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693