Vote might be coming on controversial judicial nominee

By John O'Brien | May 3, 2011


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing for a vote on one of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees, Rhode Island plaintiffs attorney Jack McConnell.

The Providence Journal reported Tuesday that Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, filed a cloture petition to bring the debate over McConnell, a heavy Democratic campaign contributor, to an end with a vote. It has been more than a year since Obama nominated McConnell on the advice of Rhode Island's two senators.

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, which recently approved his nomination with an 11-7 vote. Only one Republican joined the Democrats in the majority.

"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 Obama. Obama nominated him in March 2010.

Motley Rice has been sued by Sherwin-Williams in an Ohio court. The company claims that the firm stole privileged documents that broke down the costs of litigation from it during the Rhode Island lead paint case.

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial said McConnell isn't worthy of a spot on the bench.

"Judicial vacancies are unfortunate, but the seat to which Jack McConnell has been nominated is not even among the 35 so-called federal judicial emergencies," the editorial says. "Senators Whitehouse and Reed also didn't mind keeping the same vacancy open when they helped to block President Bush's nominee, Lincoln Almond, for two years. Mr. Almond never was confirmed.

"Our view is that judicial nominees deserve a vote on the Senate floor, but Democrats and liberals shouldn't be surprised if Republicans conclude that the only way to stop Democrats from filibustering GOP nominees is to do the same to President Obama's."

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.

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

More News

The Record Network