The Constitution clearly delineates the power of "advice and consent" on judicial nominations to the U.S. Senate alone. Moreover, "advice and consent" means more than a rubber-stamp of the president's nominees. It means we, as senators, have a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the nation gets the very best candidates for these appointments. Typically, those nominated are of the highest caliber, practitioners and scholars characterized by distinguished careers marked with unmistakable professional integrity.
Unfortunately, Jack McConnell does not fit this bill. Nominated to the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, Mr. McConnell throughout his career has tended toward perverting the rule of law, rather than upholding it. A close look at Mr. McConnell's 25-year legal career reveals a record surrounded by an ethical cloud.
Nothing characterizes this better than when Mr. McConnell came before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was asked about his familiarity with a set of stolen legal documents his law firm obtained during litigation against lead-paint manufacturers. Responding to questioning, Mr. McConnell indicated to the committee that he saw the documents "briefly" but was not familiar with them "in any fashion." Yet only a few months later, Mr. McConnell testified in a deposition that he was the first lawyer to receive the documents in question, had drafted a newspaper editorial citing information from the documents, and reviewed and filed a legal brief under his signature incorporating the stolen documents. It is clear to me that Mr. McConnell deliberately misled the Senate by trying to downplay his role in this controversy.
As a crusading plaintiff's lawyer, Mr. McConnell has helped initiate and direct the litigation of mass tort suits brought by state attorneys general against tobacco and lead-based paint manufacturers. He and his firm established a pattern of contributing tens of thousands of dollars to attorneys general in states engaged in mass tobacco litigation, where his firm was appointed to represent those states on a contingent-fee basis.
For his role in the tobacco litigation, Mr. McConnell continues to receive millions of dollars personally in annual payouts through 2024. His involvement in these mass contingent-fee cases raises the appearance of impropriety and "pay-to-play" dealings. I have long argued these types of arrangements are inherently unethical and inevitably lead to the appearance of public corruption. In Texas, for instance, my predecessor as attorney general served more than three years in federal prison for his role in manipulating documents related to a contingent-fee contract and attempting to channel settlement funds to a close friend.
Finally, Mr. McConnell's background reveals a troubling, results-based approach to the law. I do not believe that all parties who come before him would receive a fair and impartial trial. Especially worrisome is his anti-business bias, summed up by his view that some businesses would only do the right thing "when they're sued and forced to by a jury." In fact, his record is so alarming that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce took the unprecedented step of labeling him "unfit to serve," marking the first time in its 99-year history that the Chamber of Commerce has opposed a U.S. District Court nominee.
Frankly, I cannot look my constituents in the eye and tell them that I think their businesses will get a fair shake in Mr. McConnell's courtroom. If you read the record, I am convinced that you will share my concerns.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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