WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Thursday confirmed David Barron to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, overcoming bipartisan opposition over legal memos he authored justifying the use of drones to kill American terrorist suspects overseas.
The final vote was 53 to 45. All Republicans opposed his confirmation, along with two Democrats: Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Mary Landrieu (La.).
Barron, who is currently a Harvard Law professor, faced resistance for weeks over the drone memos he drafted during his time at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel early in the Obama administration. A group of liberal and conservative senators banded together and vowed to oppose him unless the administration made public all drone-related memos that Barron had a hand in crafting. The White House stepped up its game last week, sending White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler to Senate Democrats' weekly lunch to make the case for Barron and allowing lawmakers to view copies of Barron's memos in a secure Senate room.
The Justice Department also signaled this week that it won't block the release of a 2011 memo that Barron wrote that provided the legal basis for using drone strikes on Americans abroad. Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda leader born in the United States, was killed by a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. Several senators cited the lack of transparency on this document as a major concern for confirming Obama's nominee.
Barron has his share of supporters. Professor David Cole of Georgetown University, a known critic of the administration on civil liberties matters, deemed Barron "a highly qualified lawyer who I know personally to be thoughtful, considerate, open-minded, and brilliant." He argued that senators shouldn't conflate issues around Barron's appointment with the administration's lack of transparency on certain memos.
During Senate floor remarks, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also urged senators not to equate their views on the drone program with Barron, who, as an attorney, was simply doing his job by providing his legal analysis of the policy.
"Let's be clear: Barron is ... certainly not responsible for the administration's drone policy or the decisions to authorize an attack," Markey said. "He is a lawyer who was asked to do legal analysis for his client: the president of the United States."
Markey added that Barron has the support of two Harvard professors "who could not be further apart politically," but who both agree he is "a brilliant lawyer who will make an excellent judge."