The Senate voted 53-45 on Thursday to confirm to a federal Appeals Court the nomination of David Barron, the former Justice Department official who helped write the legal justification for the drone killing of an American extremist abroad.
The vote came with little drama. On Wednesday, the Senate advanced the nomination 52-43, with all Democrats voted to move the nomination ahead, except for Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who voted with Republicans to block it.
All Democrats voted to move the nomination ahead, except for Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who voted with Republicans to block it.
Barron had faced somewhat of an uncertain fate, as libertarian and liberal senators voiced concerns about his role in authoring the so-called drone memos. The Obama administration allowed senators to view the memos last week in a secure Senate room.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that the Barron nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit wasn't in trouble. But some, such as Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, had insisted they wanted the memos released to the public, too. On Tuesday night, less than 24 hours before the Senate vote to move Barron's nomination ahead, the administration decided that it would do just that.
But that doesn't mean average Americans will get to take a look anytime soon; the process of releasing the documents will take some time, to allow for redactions and a court review of any changes.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to have the memo released, had expressed concerns about the nomination. The group's deputy legal director, Jameel Jaffer, said the ACLU hopes the release of the memo "signals a broader shift in the administration's approach to the official secrecy surrounding its targeted killing program."
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky attempted to delay the Barron nomination, but he conceded that there wasn't much he could do to stop it, especially given recent Senate rules change. Whereas previously 60 votes were needed to confirm judges — meaning that a handful of Republicans would need to support a nomination — now just 51 votes are needed. Senate Democratic leadership had also already set up the procedural clock in such a way that Paul couldn't mount an old-fashioned filibuster to delay a final confirmation vote.
If he is confirmed, Barron will receive a lifetime appointment to the Appeals Court that covers Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico. Barron, who is married to Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem, is also a Harvard University professor.
This story has been updated.