This was a vote on a motion to end debate (cloture motion) on President Obama’s nomination of John J. McConnell, Jr. to be a U.S. District Judge in Rhode Island. Cloture motions require 60 votes for passage.
Under the constitution, the president has the authority to nominate individuals for federal judgeships, but a majority of the Senate must vote in favor of their nomination in order for them to be sworn into office.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) supported this nomination, and urged senators to vote in favor of this cloture motion: “In sum, those who know Jack McConnell as a lawyer and as a person recognize that he will be a great district court judge, with a proper understanding of the limited judicial role. A native Rhode Islander and a graduate of Brown University, McConnell will make his State proud in his service on the Federal bench, particularly at a time when our court is straining under the workload caused by the vacancy he would fill….Jack McConnell brought lawsuits against powerful industries, including tobacco, asbestos, and lead paint. There is nothing wrong with that. There is no dishonor in representing poisoned kids, lung cancer patients or the bereaved widow of a mesothelioma victim. It should not disqualify McConnell or anyone from confirmation.”
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY, no relation) opposed the nomination, and urged senators to vote against the motion to end debate: “In Mr. McConnell's eyes, the wrongdoers in America are invariably its job creators. His legal career has been marked by a pervasive and persistent hostility to American job creators. This bias against one part of American society is fundamentally antithetical to the rule of law, and it has led him to take a series of troubling actions that show his unfitness for a lifetime position as a fair and impartial judicial officer….After such a long record of hostility toward one segment of American society, it is difficult to believe Mr. McConnell can now turn on a dime and `administer justice without respect to persons,' as the judicial oath requires. The business community does not think so, and it is easy to see why. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has never before opposed a district court nominee in its 100-year history--not once. Yet it is so troubled by Mr. McConnell's clear disdain for the business community that it has taken the extraordinary step of opposing this nomination.”
Some Republicans who opposed the nomination voted in favor of cloture, arguing that, barring extraordinary circumstances, district court nominees deserved an up-or-down vote. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), voted in favor of the cloture motion: “…During my 24 years in the U.S. Senate I have not once voted against cloture for a nominee to the district court, and I will not do so today….The nomination of Mr. McConnell does not rise to a level of `extraordinary circumstances.'…While I would not have chosen Mr. McConnell as a nominee to the federal bench if I were in a position to nominate, I respect the president's ability to do so and therefore will vote for the cloture motion on Mr. McConnell's nomination, but will strongly oppose his nomination to the federal bench.”
The Senate voted to invoke cloture and shut off debate on this nomination by a vote of 63-33. All 52 Democrats present and 11 Republicans voted “yea.” 33 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate invoked cloture and shut off debate on John J. McConnell’s nomination to be a U.S. District Judge in Rhode Island—thereby allowing his nomination to receive an up-or-down vote.