U.S. Chamber of Commerce Influence in Judicial Appointments – Chamber ups ante against McConnell appointment

By JOHN E. MULLIGAN

Journal Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A major business group has stepped up its opposition to President Obama’s nomination of John J. McConnell Jr. to the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, calling him “unfit to serve this lifetime appointment to the federal bench.”

On the eve of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s debate on the McConnell nomination, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce alerted senators that their votes on whether to seat him could become part of the organization’s influential scorecard on members of Congress.

“Mr. McConnell’s actions during his career as a personal injury lawyer and past statements demonstrate his disregard for the rule of law, an activist judicial philosophy and obvious bias against businesses,” R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s chief lobbyist, said in a letter Tuesday to committee members that was released Wednesday morning.

Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, who sharply rebutted the charges when an arm of the Chamber made them in May, issued a joint reply Wednesday: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been outspoken in opposing consumer protection, campaign finance reform, the minimum wage, action on climate change and holding polluters accountable. So, it is not a surprise that as part of their agenda they would oppose Mr. McConnell. And it is also no surprise that Rhode Islanders of all backgrounds don’t agree with these outlandish claims because they know Jack McConnell to be highly qualified in every respect.”

The two Rhode Island Democrats asked Mr. Obama last year to nominate McConnell. Whitehouse has noted that the U.S. Chamber took its position without consulting its Rhode Island affiliate.

The Chamber’s letter escalates what was already an extraordinary campaign against the seating of a nominee to the federal trial bench. It is not common for nominations to these courts — dozens of which can be routinely cleared in a given year — to generate controversy. The Chamber says it is unprecedented for it to mount the kind of organized opposition it has launched against this particular U.S. District Court nominee.

The consideration of McConnell’s nomination is playing out against a partisan backdrop. The Providence lawyer, 51, is a longtime state Democratic official, a major contributor to the party and a leading plaintiffs’ lawyer. He has given more than $432,000 to federal election campaigns over the years, including those of Whitehouse and Jack Reed. That appears to make him the top donor to federal campaigns among the nearly 1,500 nominees to U.S. courts since 1988. Only three other nominees during those years appear to have given as much as $100,000, according to a Providence Journal analysis of federal contributions. McConnell is also a major Rhode Island philanthropist.

The Chamber, which tends to support Republicans through its campaign spending arm, has lobbied actively for changes in the system that permits large numbers of plaintiffs to seek large damage awards from companies.

“The Chamber urges you to oppose this nomination,” Josten told the Judiciary Committee in Tuesday’s letter. “Should the committee report Mr. McConnell’s nomination to the full Senate, the Chamber would consider votes on, or in relation to, this nomination in our annual How They Voted Scorecard.”

The Chamber, one of many groups across the political spectrum that issue guides to the voting records of members of Congress, views its scorecard as carrying much weight because it represents a large number and variety of American businesses.

If he becomes a federal judge, Josten said, McConnell would have “a clear conflict of interest” because of the millions of dollars he is due to receive in the coming years as deferred payment for his past legal work. That was a reference to McConnell’s disclosure to the committee that he will make between $2.5 million and $3.1 million every year through 2024 in deferred pay for his legal work — including his part in the historic, $248-billion settlement with tobacco firms in 1998. The tobacco case is the foundation of a personal fortune that McConnell has reported at more than $15 million.

McConnell has told the Judiciary Committee in writing that he would address any potential conflict of interest in accordance with the rules for federal judges.

Reed, Whitehouse and other McConnell supporters, including some prominent Rhode Island Republicans, have asserted that he would be able to set aside his strong political views in order to become an impartial judge.

McConnell would appear to have more than enough votes on the Democratic-majority Judiciary Committee to win a recommendation Thursday that the full Senate confirm his nomination. Several Republican members have questioned McConnell’s record but none has come out in opposition to its confirmation. Whitehouse has said, however, that he expects some GOP opposition.

projo.com

Comments!

MrsKramer

I can’t tell from the link provided. Did those US Chamber/Insurance Industry letters to legislators regarding their upcoming appointment of a Federal judicuary have checks enclosed with them?

RLC

I take it the Chamber would also think that former corporate lawyers are unfit to serve because they have “a clear conflict of interest”. Anyone with stock or stock options is clearly unable to act independently or recuse themselves when necessary, right? Or perhaps this is just a special interest group concerned with the appointment of someone not wholly in the pocket of business?

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