Grassley to decide role in opposing judicial nomination

John O'Brien Apr. 1, 2011, 12:00pm



WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is clearly not a fan of plaintiffs attorney Jack McConnell becoming a federal judge. But what will the Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican do about it?

An 11-7 vote by the committee on Thursday sent McConnell's controversial nomination to the bench in Rhode Island to the full Senate. Seven of eight Republican members voted against McConnell, while all 10 Democrats voted in favor of him.

Democrats hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. Grassley felt the issue was important enough to issue a press release that featured his lengthy opening remarks that questioned McConnell's ability to be an impartial judge.

When asked if Grassley will mount more opposition to McConnell's nomination than issuing press releases, his press secretary, Beth Levine, said, "Nothing's been decided yet."

She also noted that it will be hard to tell when the issue will arise in the full Senate.

"If we only knew," she said. "Unfortunately, as the minority we don't know. It's up to Sen. (Harry) Reid. He decides."

Grassley expressed serious concerns with McConnell, an attorney with Motley Rice, summing them up at the end of his opening remarks.

"For the reasons I have articulated - (1) his active partisanship which I believe he will carry with him into the judiciary; (2) his legal theories being outside the mainstream; (3) his lack of judicial temperament; (4) his questionable business practices; and (5) his lack of candor with the committee - and other concerns which I have not expressed today, I shall oppose this nomination," he said.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed recommended McConnell to fill a vacancy in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island last year. Whitehouse is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

"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 McConnell and his firm 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.

McConnell also represented some states in their lawsuits against the tobacco industry. His work, and the work of other private attorneys, led to the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. It has an estimated worth of $246 billion over its first 25 years and allows for annual payments made to the attorneys who litigated the case.

A post by Judicial Watch says McConnell will receive between $2.5 million and $3.1 million annually until 2024 as a result of the settlement.

Through the years, he and his wife have given more than $600,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates, including President Barack Obama. Obama nominated him in March 2010.

The Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is also opposing McConnell's nomination. The ILR owns Legal Newsline.

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