Rand Paul drew praise from both the Right and Left last year when he mounted a 13-hour, talking filibuster from the Senate floor to block a nomination over objections related to drone killings of American citizens. And he might do it again this year.
The Republican senator from Kentucky plans to block the nomination of David Barron to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Barron, a former Justice Department official, was a main author of a secret Obama administration "drone memo," which reportedly offered a legal justification for the killing of American extremist Anwar al-Awlaki, who was living in Yemen at the time. After mounting pressure from both liberals and libertarians, the administration allowed senators to read the memos, of which there are two documents.
"I've read David Barron's memos concerning the legal justification for killing an American citizen overseas without a trial or legal representation, and I am not satisfied," Paul said in a statement Thursday. There is "no valid legal precedent to justify the killing of an American citizen not engaged in combat," the senator added, saying he plans to filibuster Barron's nomination.
Senators look to block action on the Senate floor all the time, but not through a talking filibuster. Asked whether Paul's plan to block Barron's nomination means another marathon filibuster, Paul's press secretary said he "will do everything in his power to oppose the nomination of David Barron, and thus a filibuster is not out of the question."
Thanks to C-SPAN and social media, talking nonstop to thwart a bill—which was how lawmakers filibustered bills in the old days—has the potential to draw massive amounts of attention. Take Democratic legislator Wendy Davis's filibuster of an abortion bill in the Texas state House. Her effort went viral and propelled her to the national stage.
Paul's filibuster last year spurred surprising support from both conservatives and liberals. Back then, the senator was blocking the confirmation of John Brennan to lead the CIA, after the administration had refused to rule out the use of drone strikes on American soil.
"I will speak until I can no longer speak," Paul said on the Senate floor last March. "I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court."
The timing of the filibuster, which spawned the hashtag #StandWithRand, came shortly before the conservative confab at CPAC. There, it became clear that Paul's political stock had risen considerably thanks to his speech.
But there's a crucial difference between last year and the current case. Whereas Paul's filibuster did effectively block Brennan's nomination from moving forward, this potential speech will take place in a post-nuclear Senate. The upper chamber has since changed how it confirms judicial nominees—last March, 60 votes were needed to confirm a nominee; now, just 51 are required. That means that Paul can talk all he wants, but it won't matter much if 51 Democrats back President Obama's nominee.
Liberals have also voiced concerns over Barron's nomination. Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, for instance, has said he won't back Barron's nomination until the memos are made public.
On Thursday, White House counsel met with the Democratic caucus to discuss the memos and Barron's nomination. A Senate vote on Barron's nomination will come next week.
"It's a difficult issue. He's a brilliant judge, who on most issues, is in sync with the vast majority of Democrats. And the question is this memo," Chuck Schumer, the Senate's No. 3 Democrat, said before the meeting. "The people who have read the memos—I have not at this point—say when you read them, it's far more exculpatory of Barron than the news reports might indicate."
This article appears in the May 19, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.