A trial lawyer nominated by President Barack Obama to be a federal judge in Rhode Island was confirmed on a party-line vote Wednesday just hours after a Senate GOP filibuster attempt failed.
The Senate voted 50-44 to confirm lawyer John McConnell to the bench after a more significant 63-33 tally to advance the nomination past a filibuster orchestrated by GOP leaders.
Eleven Republicans joined with Democrats in the earlier vote to break the filibuster. GOP leaders opposed McConnell, citing his record as a trial lawyer in cases against businesses. Republicans also said McConnell was less than truthful in his testimony to the Senate.
Wednesday's vote comes six years after the Republicans then in control of the Senate considered a change in procedures to make it impossible to filibuster judicial nominations, citing numerous Democratic efforts to stall former President George W. Bush's nominees. Democrats said Republicans were being hypocritical in now trying to filibuster a Democratic nominee.
"A few years ago, Republican senators argued that filibusters of judicial nominees were unconstitutional. They said that every nominee was entitled to an up or down vote," said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Well, of course they said that with a Republican president. Now suddenly things have changed."
Many more of Obama's judicial nominees are being held up because Republicans won't consent to scheduling votes.
Republicans said they're committed to confirming consensus nominees but that McConnell was simply too anti-business.
"His legal career has been marked by a pervasive and persistent hostility to American job creators," said GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is not related to the nominee. "This bias against one part of American society is fundamentally antithetical to the rule of law."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce broke with tradition and called upon senators to oppose John McConnell, saying that he lacked the ability to be unbiased regarding the business defendants that may appear before him. The Chamber cited McConnell's long record of aggressively representing plaintiffs taking on businesses and that he stands to continue to earn $3 million a year from his prior private practice work.
Rhode Island's top federal judge has said that a four-year judicial vacancy left open amid partisan bickering in the Senate has led her court to take the unusual step of reassigning more than two dozen civil cases to judges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.