Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) move last fall to go nuclear on the filibuster didn’t just undermine the rights of the minority in the chamber, it has also helped the Obama administration continue its pernicious habit of keeping members of Congress and the American people in the dark.
President Barack Obama nominated David Barron in September 2013 to fill a seat on the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Barron briefly served in the administration, from January 2009 to July 2010, as acting assistant attorney general.
During his stint at the Justice Department, Barron, a critic of President George W. Bush’s use of executive power, wrote a memo outlining the legal case for the targeted drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen accused of terrorist activity. The drones memo, which has been used to assassinate other Americans, is now at the center of his confirmation to a lifetime seat on the federal bench.
The Second District Court of Appeals recently ordered the administration to release the memo. To this point the White House has been defiant, leaving senators from both parties, including Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mark Udall (D-CO), to threaten to hold up Barron’s confirmation unless the administration follows through on the court order.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) says the concern over the drones memo and the administration’s lack of transparency “underscores the danger of the so-called ‘nuclear option’ Democrats are using to ram through controversial nominees on strict party-line votes.”
The “nuclear option” was used to clear the path for several of President Obama’s executive-level and judicial nominees. Democrats, including Reid and then-Sen. Obama,decried an attempt by Republicans in 2005 to eliminate the filibuster for similar reasons.
“The Obama Administration has been extremely resistant in providing information about its drone program, which continues with its refusal to disclose the body of David Barron’s government work,” Cruz said in a press release on Thursday.
Cruz explained that the drones memo is relevant to Barron’s confirmation, noting that the judicial nominee “shaped the government’s policies that are roiling the public today.” The Texas conservative said that it “would be a grave mistake to confirm” Barron unless the White House gives “meaningful access” to the drones memo. The White House has offered senators limited access to the memo.
“Any Democrat concerned about civil liberties should have profound concerns here,” said Cruz. “The Senate’s decision to allow a person such as Mr. Barron to be confirmed by a bare partisan majority without any real attempt to provide proper ‘advice and consent,’ is in the long run an even graver mistake.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said that Republicans would consider bringing back the filibuster for executive-level nominations if they retake the chamber this fall.