The Man Who Wrote the ‘Drone Memos’ Will Serve on a Federal Court

The Senate has confirmed the nomination of former Justice official David Barron, who survived opposition from a cadre of libertarians and liberals.

David Barron is sworn in before testifying to the Senate Judicary Committee during his nomination hearing on Nov. 20, 2013.
National Journal
May 21, 2014, 10:50 a.m.

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.

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