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GOP senators fail to filibuster Rhode Island trial judge

May 04, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro and James Oliphant

Republicans were unable to mount a filibuster Wednesday against one of President Obama’s judicial nominees despite an unprecedented objection from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against a plaintiffs lawyer the GOP said was unfit to serve on the bench.

No district court nominee that has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee has been denied nomination on a procedural vote in recent memory, senators from both parties said.

“The targeting of district court nominees is unprecedented,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

But Republicans argued that the nominee, attorney John “Jack” McConnell of Rhode Island,  was unfit to serve on the U.S. District Court in that state.

The Chamber of Commerce said the attorney was biased against business. Its objection was the first over a district court nominee in the group’s history. The Chamber also raised questions about the credibility of McConnell’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Plaintiffs' lawyers--the so-called trial bar--largely have been supporters of Democrats.

“Mr. McConnell has shown time and time again that he would not be an impartial jurist and that’s something we can’t afford while our nation’s job creators continue to struggle,” said Chamber President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue in a statement, noting the Chamber would be scoring senators’ votes. 

The Senate voted 63-33 to allow the nominee to proceed to a vote. Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in voting to advance the nomination.

Nearly a decade ago, senators reached a truce in the escalating battle over judicial nominations, agreeing not to halt nominees on procedural grounds and allow a straight vote unless "extraordinary circumstances" existed.

But that working agreement hasn't prevented certain controversial nominees, such as Goodwin Liu, the University of California-Berkeley law professor nominated by President Obama to the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, from being bottled up.

"Just a few years ago, Republican senators argued that filibusters of judicial nominees were unconstitutional, and that every nominee was entitled to an up-or-down vote," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont , the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday before the vote. "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."

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

james.oliphant@latimes.com

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