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No Change In 'Atmosphere':
May 5, 2011

Cloture Invoked on the McConnell Nomination

May 4, 2011

James A. Christophersen

Today’s cloture vote initiated by Senate Democrats clearly indicates that the numerous ethical concerns raised about judicial Rhode Island District Court nominee John McConnell will not be afforded serious consideration.  While Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid praised the vote as one which “will make the atmosphere around here so much more pleasant,” his filing for cloture actually ignores substantial concerns raised by Republican lawmakers. Through this vote, Democrats have pushed to confirm a politically motivated nomination instead of working to improve the 'atmosphere' surrounding confirmations.

Why Senate Democrats continue to push for the confirmation of such radically controversial nominees remains unclear.  What is clear, however, is that McConnell; the former Director of the Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic in Providence Rhode Island, whose results-oriented lawsuits have stretched legal theories far beyond the fringe of reason, and who, at best, misled the Senate Judiciary Committee (and at worst lied in his written answers to their inquiries), is not suited for a lifetime appointment to the Federal Judiciary.  (See below for JAG’s research highlighting these and numerous other concerns from McConnell’s record.)

This procedural move serves as a disappointing indication that Democrats have no intention of following a bi-partisan understanding established just a few months ago which has dramatically reduced the deadlock of judicial confirmations.  Republicans have taken the first step as evidenced by the 17 non-controversial judicial nominees confirmed since January (a dramatic increase in the number of votes and confirmations when compared to the past several years), but Reid’s maneuver indicates that this extension of fair consideration will not be reciprocated.

The success so far had grown from a mutual understanding that so-called “non-controversial” nominees deserved a speedy confirmation, but also recognition that not all nominees are fit to serve on the Federal Bench, and as such some do not deserve confirmation. Nominees of the partisan, politically-polarized variety should not be forced down the throats of the American people by liberal Senators eager to confirm judges who openly espouse their political values and would potentially issue rulings favorable to Democratic Party positions.

Democrats have instead chosen to steamroll the multitude of concerns about McConnell’s record and to force Republicans to vote against cloture on a judicial nominee.  Such a vote could be avoided by Democrats willing to give just an ounce of deference to Republican apprehensions, yet their blind acceptance of a Democratic nominee apparently provides no room to question the President’s choice.  The judicial confirmation process is not designed for Senators to rubber-stamp their president’s nominees nor to blindly reject the other party’s nominees.  It exists to benefit and protect the American people because no president is perfect, and every nominee is not worthy of confirmation.

McConnell’s nomination represents one of those extraordinary circumstances in which a nominee does not deserve confirmation. The following video and article show some of the questionable items in McConnell’s history.

March 2, 2011

Monday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed for cloture on John McConnell, Obama nominee to the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island. This partisan move forces Republicans opposing McConnell to decide whether to filibuster the nomination. We believe the nomination of McConnell constitutes “extraordinary circumstances” and, therefore, warrants use of the filibuster. Now, Republicans must vote against cloture on McConnell for their voice to successfully be heard and to protect the American people from a partisan lawyer with an extremely questionable record (see more below).

It is critical that you call your Senators and personally tell them to vote “no” on cloture for the confirmation of John McConnell. This vote WILL TAKE PLACE TODAY (WEDNESDAY) so call your Senators right away! 

Watch our action alert video: 

The Questionable Record of John McConnell, Nominee to the Rhode Island District Court

May 3, 2011

McConnell was Director of the Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic in Providence Rhode Island.  From 1997 to 2001 McConnell was Director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island,[i] an abortion clinic operated under the umbrella of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. The facility he managed conducts actual surgical abortions up to 5weeks 15 days following conception, and offers early-term pregnancy abortions by pill.[ii] This abortion facility even offers financial assistance for those who meet “eligibility requirements,”[iii] and aids minors in obtaining “judicial bypass” for an abortion when their parents will not provide consent.[iv]

 Like Goodwin Liu, McConnell Supports Judicial Activism as a Member of the American Constitution Society (ACS). Since 2008,[v] McConnell has supported the ACS whose stated goal is “[T]he incorporation of international human rights law into domestic law and U.S. compliance with human rights obligations.”[vi] When speaking of Constitutional interpretation the ACS says that “Ideological conservatives have been quite successful in promoting neutral-sounding theories of constitutional interpretation, such as originalism and strict construction.”[vii] The ACS essentially suggests that interpreting the Constitution according to the intent of its authors is not the right way to interpret the Constitution.

 McConnell Directed the George Wiley Center – an Organization with Close Ties to ACORN.  McConnell served as Director (uncompensated) of the George Wiley Center (named after one of the founders of ACORN) from ‘85-’88.[viii]  The Wiley Center’s newsletters show regular coordination between the two groups, repeatedly referring to ACORN as their “allies,”[ix] and indicates that they worked together to organize protesters[x] and co-sponsor events.[xi]  However, any financial ties and the exact extent of their collaboration remain largely unclear.

 McConnell Supports Organizations Who Support Homosexual Marriage and Oppose Conservative Politicians.  McConnell has been a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center since 1989.[xii] The SPLC has labeled traditional family value groups such as the Family Research Council as “hate groups”[xiii] and lumps them together with groups such as the Aryan Nation, the New Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, and the Klu Klux Klan.[xiv]  They similarly list Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Steve King as ‘extremists’ alongside white supremacist and neo-Nazi leaders.[xv]  The organization also calls Rep. Michele Bachmann an ‘enabler’ for extremist groups and claims that she “can give even the most paranoid militiaman a run for his money.”[xvi]

 McConnell Misplaces the Primacy of the Constitution when Describing the Role of Judges.  When asked what the role of a judge is by Senator Chuck Grassley during his Judiciary Committee hearing, Mr. McConnell answered “The role of a judge is to apply existing law, as set forth in precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, to the facts presented.”[xvii]   McConnell’s position is simply incorrect.  Unless a judge seeks to “legislate from the bench,” he must rule from the bench according to previously adopted legislative enactments.  For a judge to look first to the opinion of other judges, i.e., precedent, rather than legislation is misplaced and is symptomatic of the problem of judicial activism whereby judges disregard the law and instead purport to make new “law” from the bench.

McConnell’s Partnership Interest in the Political Firm Catalist LLC Shows His Dedication to Supporting Organizations Sympathetic to Judicial Activism.  Since 2007, McConnell has been a limited partner in the firm Catalist, LLC.[xviii]  Their clients include an extensive list of progressive groups known for their support of changing laws through judicial activism,[xix] and several organizations whose business with the firm may present a conflict of interest in confirming McConnell to the bench.

[i] Page Five of Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees

[ii] http://ppsne.org/locations/providence.pdf  The abortion center where McConnell worked, and a list of the abortion ‘services’ they provide can be found at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center/centerDetails.asp?f=3362&a=90220&v=details

[iii] Id.

[iv] This information is included as part of the clinic’s automated answering system: 401-421-9620 x6 (abortion services).

[v] Page Eight of Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees

[viii] Page Five of Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees

[xii] Page Seven of Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees

[xiii] Earlier this year, the SPLC add to their list of “hate groups”: The American Family Association, The Family Research Institute, and Traditional Values Coalition. See: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/winter/the-hard-liners

[xvii] Question Two of the Written Questions of Senator Grassley 

[xviii] Page Five of Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees

Phillip Jauregui