Obama's judicial picks sent back to Senate


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - President Barack Obama recently sent five judicial nominations, including Rhode Island plaintiffs lawyer Jack McConnell to become a federal judge, back to the U.S. Senate.

The nominations were returned to Obama when the Senate recessed in August. Others nominated for federal posts include former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler and University of California law school professor Goodwin Liu.

McConnell's nomination has been met with criticism. The Washington Examiner, a conservative publication, said he is trying to buy a federal judgeship.

Obama picked McConnell to fill a spot on a district court in Rhode Island. McConnell, of Motley Rice, and his wife have given almost $700,000 to Democrats since 1993 and was already approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Among the beneficiaries of this campaign largesse were Obama, four members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that approved his nomination, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee," the editorial says.

"All 12 Democrats on the panel voted yes on McConnell's nomination."

The committee recommended McConnell's approval 13-6 in June. The lone Republican who supported McConnell was South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, who has received $7,700 from Motley Rice, the editorial says.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed recommended McConnell to fill a vacancy in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island last year.

"Jack McConnell is a brilliant legal mind and an outstanding community leader. We believe he possesses the experience, intellect, and temperament to be a great judge on the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island," a statement released by the senators said.

Whitehouse, then the attorney general, hired Motley Rice to file a lawsuit against the former makers of lead paint in 1999.

The state Supreme Court unanimously struck down a verdict for the plaintiffs in 2008, turning back a legal theory that said the companies created a public nuisance by making lead-based paint, even before its effects were known and the federal government banned it in 1978.

After Whitehouse left the Attorney General's Office, McConnell and his wife pumped $12,600 into his campaign fund. Whitehouse took office in 2007.

Since 2001, the McConnells have given Reed $13,200, including $8,800 for his 2008 re-election campaign.

When the state Supreme Court unanimously slapped down McConnell's theory, it delivered a welcome dose of common sense," the editorial says.

"Unfortunately, common sense is rare in the nation's capital and it will become less so if more men like McConnell are allowed to advance the agenda of the Democratic Party and the class-action trial lawyers' bar from the federal bench."

McConnell and his wife have contributed to several other senators. They include:

-Minnesota's Al Franken, who received $1,000 for the Franken Recount Fund in 2008;

-New Mexico's Tom Udall, to whom the McConnells gave $3,000;

-Washington's Maria Cantwell, to whom the McConnells gave $4,200;

-Connecticut's Chris Dodd, to whom the McConnells gave $1,000;

-Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, to whom the McConnells gave $500;

-Florida's Bill Nelson, to whom the McConnells gave $3,000;

-Washington's Patty Murray, to whom the McConnells gave $2,000;

-Nevada's Harry Reid, to whom the McConnells gave $1,000;

-Indiana's Evan Bayh, to whom the McConnells gave $1,000;

-New York's Chuck Schumer, to whom the McConnells gave $1,000; and

-Michigan's Debbie Stabenow, to whom the McConnells gave $3,000.

Among members of the Obama administration, the McConnells gave $12,000 to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in 2004 for his Senate campaign, as well as $8,000 to Chief of Staff and former Congressman Rahm Emanuel in 2003.

Butler was chosen for a district court in Wisconsin, while Liu would become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit if he is affirmed.

Likewise, Robert Chatigny would become an appellate judge. Obama picked him for the Second Circuit, while Edward Chen would fill a spot in a district court in California.

Chatigny is a judge on a district court in Connecticut, and Chen is a magistrate judge.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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