Since it was founded 12 years ago, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) has never opposed anyone nominated for a federal district court judgeship. That changed this month, when the chamber joined with other business organizations in recommending to the Senate Judiciary Committee that it reject the nomination of John J. “Jack” McConnell to serve a lifetime appointment on the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island.
The decision to weigh in on Mr. McConnell’s nomination is not one that was made lightly and nor was it based on the fact that Mr. McConnell is a plaintiffs’ lawyer.
If that were the case, we would have been busy opposing other nominees.
Instead, we are opposing Mr. McConnell because he has demonstrated unsound legal judgment and has a history of strong personal anti-business bias. He is also among the lowest-rated of all current federal judicial nominees, and if confirmed, would have a clear conflict of interest because of his generous deferred-compensation deal. Further, his elevation to the bench will draw many enterprising plaintiffs lawyers to the Rhode Island federal court.
In the late 1990s, following their massive (and massively lucrative) victory over the tobacco industry, Mr. McConnell and his partners at the South Carolina law firm Motley Rice looked for their next windfall, and concocted a novel concept to use an 800-year-old common-law theory known as public nuisance to sue national paint companies. The Providence Journal editorial board has called their theory a “ludicrous interpretation” of public-nuisance law and a “preposterous scheme to raid the coffers of paint companies.” Mr. McConnell himself initially referred to the concept as “a whacky idea” first thought up by one of his law partners.
Lisa A. Rickard serves as president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), where she provides strategic leadership to ILR's comprehensive program aimed at changing the legal culture that has resulted in our nation's litigation explosion.