Senate advances nominee after White House OKs release of drone memo

Senate vote puts David Barron a step closer to spot on 1st Circuit Court of Appeals

The Senate moved a step closer to confirming David Barron to the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, overcoming objections from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and civil libertarians based on his authorship of the so-called “drone memo.”

The Senate’s 52-43 vote to end debate on his nomination all but ensures Barron, a former Justice Department lawyer, will take his seat on the panel, which hears cases from the New England area. A final confirmation vote will likely come Thursday.

On the eve of the vote, the Justice Department announced it would release a long-sought secret document laying out the legal justification for using drones to kill American citizens suspected of terrorist activities abroad. Before this week, the Obama administration had fought the public release of the document and offered to show only unredacted copies privately to senators. Democrats were among those who pressed for access to the document as a precondition for even considering Barron’s confirmation.

Paul, who said he had read the memo, attempted to delay the Senate’s action Wednesday morning, to no avail.

“Some have argued that releasing these memos is sufficient for his nomination,” Paul said. “This is not a debate about transparency. This is a debate about whether or not American citizens, not involved in combat, are guaranteed due process.”

Though Paul had threatened to filibuster the nomination, his speech lasted just over half an hour. That was far short of the nearly 13-hour speech he gave on the Senate floor in 2013 to protest drone killings, a move that briefly delayed the confirmation of John Brennan as CIA director.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has also frequently challenged the White House over national security methods, spoke after Paul to praise the decision to release the legal opinion and pledged to vote for Barron. He also thanked Paul for his “passion” on the issue of balancing liberty and security.

“This whole matter is about much more than a single memo. It drives home how incredibly important vigorous congressional oversight is,” Wyden said.

Barron already had the full support of Senate leaders. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), while acknowledging his colleagues’ concerns, said Barron “didn’t do anything other than write a legal opinion.”

Barron’s now-likely confirmation comes as other Obama nominees are still facing delays in the Senate, even after Democrats moved to lower the threshold for overcoming a filibuster from 60 votes to a simple majority. Reid threatened earlier this week to consider further changes to Senate rules to end what he said was Republican obstruction.

But Michael Boggs, a nominee for a Georgia district court seat, may be defeated by Democrats who have criticized his record on civil rights and abortion, among other issues. Reid said he would not vote for Boggs, citing his votes to reinstate a version of the Georgia state flag that included the Confederate battle emblem.

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