April 14, 2009

Re: Federal Judgeships and Campaign Contributions - Two Completely Unrelated Items?

Carroll Andrew Morse

For those inclined to throw their hands up in the air and say “dat’s the way da game is played” in response to the appointment of Jack McConnell to a Federal District Court judgeship, take a moment to remember that before he was a Senator with direct influence on judicial appointments, Sheldon Whitehouse joined an amicus brief as Rhode Island’s Attorney General in support of campaign finance regulation that stressed the importance of combating the appearance of corruption…

“Democracy works ‘only if the people have faith in those who govern, and that faith is bound to be shattered when high officials and their appointees engage in activities which arouse suspicions of malfeasance and corruption.’”
So apparently, Senator Whitehouse is concerned (or at least was concerned, maybe he’s changed his mind) that giving too much money to political candidates would create the appearance of corruption. But when the guys taking the money decide to give judgeships to their party's big-time donors, what concern could there be about corruption there?!

This is a version of the same Rhode Island logic that says that it’s OK for legislators to vote based on bribes they might take, as long as giving the bribes is not legal -- because rules are for little people, not for the aristocracy bred to be our leaders.

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Ummmm...excuse me, but didn't Rod Blagoyevich get impeaved for doing the exact same thing? What am I missing? I honestly just don't get it.

If I'm not living in the equivalent of a modern day Oceania, I don't know what would be.

Why are people so stupid?

Posted by: Ratkus at April 14, 2009 1:55 PM

There's a difference. Blago basically did his version of Dem-ebay, but he was the auctioner.

McConnell, in his defense, allegedly prepaid for his position. There was no auction.

Now, if it were possible to do a line by line donation breakdown and Reed and Whitehouse were involved, then we have a Blagogate.

We've learned from the idiots in RI that even though Reed took approx. 3 million dollars from the very people he was suppose to be overseeing, RIers still voted for him.

We need better RIers.

Posted by: Roland at April 14, 2009 3:13 PM


While I certainly agree with you that we need better Rhode Islanders, I think you're missing the point.

The only difference between Blago and Reed/Whitehouse is that suppodesly (though I've never seen the evidence) the feds have evidence of Blago openly asking for campaign contributions in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate (a federal position).

What we have here is an ACTUAL reccomendaiton (a de facto appointment) made by our two Senators in favor of a guy who has donated about $700,000 to the candidates. There doesn't need to be a formal written request for donations from the Senators to this guy McConnell for us to understand that there was a quid pro qou here. The campaign contributions ARE the smoking gun folks.

So Blago asks for donations in return for an appointment and gets impeached because of, despite the fact that no such appointment was made and the seat wasn't sold. Reed/Whitehouse get huge campaign contributions from someone they're reccomdending for the federal bench (a lifetime appointment in which the person will never face election) and it's good government.

We're not a serious people if we allow these types of shenanigans.

Posted by: Ratkus at April 14, 2009 4:57 PM

A couple of points:

1. Kudos to Sens. Reed and Whitehouse for making in excellent choice in Attorney Jack McConnell.

After taking a seminar with him at Roger Williams Law School and being incredibly impressed with his intellect and vast litigation experience, I followed him out the door and almost begged him to intern at his law office. Fortunately, I was given a chance to work at his office and I learned first-hand that McConnell has one of the finest legal minds that I have ever met.

2. McConnell has been incredibly active in the community and in politics. And, in doing so, this experience should be a 'plus' not a 'minus' on his record. He chaired the board of Trinity Rep. and Crossroads and led trainings for and gave money to women candidates across this great country. Real life experience is essential for a great trial judge and McConnell has just that.

Just imagine the chilling effect if judicial candidates were punished for getting involved in the American democracy by giving to candidates or working on their campaigns.

3. The right wing conservatives complaining about McConnell's contributions have always made the argument that contributions are "free speech" protected by the First Amendment. This was their argument against McCain-Feingold. In this case, why are you all attacking McConnell for exercising his right to support whatever candidates he so chooses?

4. Similarly, all we have heard out of conservative blogs for the last 8 years is that judicial candidates should be given an up or down vote on their experience and their record, not on their political affiliations or associations. Why the sudden change?

5. Few lawyers can match Attorney McConnell's 25 years of experience in managing and winning complex litigation. He has consistently stood up for the little guy/gal against big corporations and won. Few can say that.

6. Many of America's finest judges come from "partisan" backgrounds. For example, federal judge William Smith was Chafee's chief of staff. In addition, Earl Warren was Governor of California; Hugo Black was a US Senator; Thurgood Marshall was deeply involved in the civil rights movement; etc...

7. I must have missed the outrage about Don Carcieri's current chief of staff applying for a judgeship that is appointed by HIS BOSS!!!! Hypocrisy alert!

8. You may be shocked to read this, but at a dinner at Dean David Logan's house, I told former BU law dean Ronald Cass - a prominent member of the board of the Federalist Society and top legal advisor to Giuliani at the time - that I agree that each and every judicial candidate should have an up or down vote, unless something is glaring on their "professional" record. He was certainly shocked to hear a liberal say as much, but I told him that our political system was designed to give appointment power to the executive with limited powers to the Senate and each nomination should be given a vote. I said that during Bush's presidency and I say it now.


Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at April 14, 2009 6:18 PM

Re: item 6. Are you suggesting that Judge Smith is one of "America's finest judges?" In a league with Warren and Marshall? Oh c'mon!

Re: item 7. What do retired Supreme Court Justice Don Shea (Jack McConnell's father-in-law), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Sr. U.S. Dist. Judge Ronald Lagueux, Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah, and Superior Court Associate Justice Judith Savage all have in common?

Answer: All served, at one time or another, as Executive Counsel to a Governor of Rhode Island (Shea = Licht; Whitehouse = Sundlun; Lagueux = Chafee; Jeremiah = DiPrete; Savage = Sundlun). And I think there are a few more presently or recently on the bench, but those are the only ones I can recall.

Posted by: brassband at April 14, 2009 6:40 PM

Great find, Andrew.

Consistency is for little people, as well.

Posted by: Monique at April 14, 2009 10:26 PM

Mr. Jerzyk,

Most of your points--like mentioning McConnell's community service work, or his teaching at Roger Williams, or the McCain/Feingold reference, or the up or down vote reference--are all red herrings, so I will not be addressing them. (I don't address logical fallacies, sorry.)

What I will surely do is point out your hypocrisy.

(And yes, Brian Stern has been angling with your Demcoratic friends for the last several months about geting a judgeship. The cigarette tax was a secret deal made between Carcieri and your Democrat friends in the legislature to clear the way for his appointment. That's hypocrisy and you make a great point on that one but failed to fill us in on the Democrat complacency which will be taking place to make the appointment a reality!)

However, you can you, with a straight face, make pretend that McConnell's $700K in campaign contributions to Whitehouse/Reed over the last two decades had absolutely nothing to do with his appointment to the federal bench. That insults your intelligence more than anyone elses.

This is a clear example of "pay to play" at its worst. The fact that Blagoyevich (who I'm assuming you never liked because of his anti-tax positions) can be impeached and indicted merely because he talked about what everyone does with a wink and a nod is a sign of contemporary American corruption.

The fact that nonsense like this takes place, and there is ZERO outrage about it, (I'm the only guy talking about it)indicates that we Americans are not a serious people.

In that respect, it's a great anecdote.

Posted by: Ratkus at April 15, 2009 10:37 AM


1) In the last paragraph that should read "how can you".

2) I know McConnell hasn't been appointed yet, but merely reccomended for appointment.

Posted by: Ratkus at April 15, 2009 11:06 AM

Matt-it doesn't take a genius to tell that you admire Jack McConnell and probably would like to emulate him professionally.He seems to be your role model,although how could I know that?
In any event,it is the fact that he contributed so much money and that he contributed directly to the Senators who are recommending him that bothers me.I hardly expect these Senators to recommend conservative juducual candidates.
I can't get Stephen Reinhardt(Steven?) out of my mind on this.He is on a mission for the left wing and uses the bench to facilitate it.He is married to the head of the ACLU in California,yet he rules on ACLU cases.
If your hero wants to change things,he can(a)continue giving money to people he supports(b)run for office.
I re-read the Phoenix article on McConnell and it does not give one confidence in his ability to be an impartial judge.The Phoenix isn't a right wing paper by any stretch of the imagination.

Posted by: joe bernstein at April 16, 2009 5:00 PM
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