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    Post: Chamber Influence in Judicial Appointments

    Posted by Sharon on 7/08/10

    I can't tell. Were there checks enclosed in this Chamber
    and insurance industry letter to legislators?

    OF THE
    1615 H STREET, N.W.
    WASHINGTON, D.C. 20062-2000
    June 15, 2010

    The Honorable Patrick Leahy The Honorable Jeff Sessions
    Chairman Ranking Member

    Committee on the Judiciary Committee on the Judiciary
    United States Senate United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510

    Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Sessions:

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business
    federation representing the interests of more than three
    million businesses and organizations of every size, sector,
    and region, strongly opposes the nomination of John “Jack”
    McConnell to serve on the United States
    District Court for the District of Rhode Island.

    As detailed further in the attached multi-industry letter
    that was sent to the Committee on May 11, 2010, the Chamber
    believes that Mr. McConnell is unfit to serve this lifetime
    appointment to the federal bench. 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. In addition, if confirmed, Mr. McConnell
    would have a clear conflict of interest because of future
    compensation arrangements that he currently has in place
    with his law firm employer for the next 15 years.

    The Chamber urges you to oppose this nomination. 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


    R. Bruce Josten
    Cc: The Members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

    May 11, 2010
    The Honorable Patrick Leahy The Honorable Jeff Sessions
    Chairman Ranking Member
    Committee on the Judiciary Committee on the Judiciary
    United States Senate United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510

    Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Sessions:

    The undersigned organizations write to express our strong
    opposition to the nomination of John “Jack” McConnell to
    the United States District Court for the District of Rhode
    Island. Mr. McConnell’s past statements, conduct as a
    personal injury plaintiffs’ lawyer, and lackluster ABA
    rating give us serious reservations about his fitness to
    serve a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. We do
    not raise these issues lightly, as our organizations have
    historically stayed away from debates surrounding federal
    district court nominees. But given Mr. McConnell’s record,
    we believe that a response is warranted under the

    Our opposition begins with Mr. McConnell’s mediocre rating
    from the American Bar Association of “substantial majority
    qualified, minority unqualified.” For a practicing lawyer
    with 25 years of experience to obtain such a low rating
    speaks poorly of his legal abilities, and likely means that
    he generated negative comments from judges before whom he
    appeared and/or from lawyers who know him.

    Mr. McConnell’s ABA rating should come as no surprise given
    his past statements that raise serious question about
    whether he will follow precedent and the rule of law. For
    example, in 1999, Mr. McConnell was hired on a contingency
    fee basis by the State of Rhode Island to sue paint
    companies under theories of liability that exceeded the
    bounds of well-settled law. After nine years of protracted
    litigation, and after millions of dollars spent by
    defendants, the Rhode Island Supreme Court unanimously (4-
    0) rejected Mr. McConnell’s misguided interpretation of
    public nuisance law. Rather than respect the court’s
    ruling, Mr. McConnell publicly attacked the Supreme Court’s
    decision in an op-ed that he penned for The Providence
    Journal, where he said that the justices “got [the
    decision] terribly wrong” by letting “wrongdoers off the

    Mr. McConnell’s public criticism of the Rhode Island
    Supreme Court’s lead paint ruling should also give the
    Committee pause because it casts light on a judicial
    philosophy that appears more outcome-driven than based on
    interpreting and applying the law. Indeed, when viewed
    against his philosophical views of “an active government”
    that should not “stand on the sidelines,” a picture begins
    to emerge of a judicial nominee who will legislate from the

    We are equally concerned that Mr. McConnell lacks the
    capacity to be an impartial jurist, especially against
    business defendants who may appear before him. Mr.
    McConnell has defined his career by suing business
    defendants. As his own Committee questionnaire indicates,
    of the top ten cases he views as the “most significant”
    litigations of his legal career, all but two involve
    actions against businesses, and none involved him
    representing or defending a business. Worse still, when
    asked by the Columbus Post Dispatch in 2006 about the
    possibility of future lead paint litigation, he said that,
    based on history, he had “absolutely no confidence” that
    defendant paint companies would do the right thing. He
    added “ [t]he only time is when they’re sued and
    forced to by a jury.” How could a business hope to win in
    Mr. McConnell’s courtroom when these statements show that
    the deck is already stacked so heavily against them?
    To be sure, Mr. McConnell’s ability to render fair and
    impartial rulings from the bench should be eriously
    questioned in light of potential significant financial
    windfalls that he stands to recover for the next 15 years.
    According to the McConnell questionnaire, he is scheduled
    to receive millions of dollars annually through 2024 from
    an organization closely tied with his current employer, the
    Motley Rice plaintiffs’ lawyer firm. This has all the
    appearance of a conflict of interest and it is truly
    difficult to see how Mr. McConnell could render impartial
    judgments in matters involving plaintiffs’ law firms while
    simultaneously receiving millions of dollars in
    compensation from another plaintiffs’ firm.

    We ultimately fear that Mr. McConnell’s apparent bias
    against business defendants, underlying judicial
    philosophy, and questionable respect for the rule of law,
    will lead to the multiplication of baseless lawsuits in his
    courtroom with untold consequences to businesses large and
    small across the country. Given the handful of judges who
    currently serve on the District of Rhode Island court, it
    is not hard to imagine a generation of enterprising
    personal injury lawyers flocking to a new “magnet
    jurisdiction” at the federal level with a chance to draw a
    plaintiff-lawyer friendly judge. State courts like those in
    Madison County, Illinois have amply demonstrated the
    problems that can arise from courts that accept plaintiffs’
    claims no matter what the merits.

    Finally, as most litigators well know, federal district
    courts retain wide swaths of effectively unreviewable
    authority. As such, we urge the Committee to resist the
    confirmation of a lawyer with an animus against one type of

    Like other litigants before our courts, the business
    community seeks the evenhanded application of law to the
    circumstances of their cases. After reviewing the record to
    date, the undersigned strongly believe that Mr. McConnell
    has not demonstrated that he would provide the kind of fair
    notice and predictable rules that businesses need to order
    their affairs. For this and the other foregoing reasons, we
    urge you to oppose this nomination.

    US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform
    US Chamber of Commerce
    American Insurance Association
    American Tort Reform Association
    National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
    Property and Casualty Insurers Association of America

    Cc: The Members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary

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