HLS Professor Faces Confirmation Battle for Appeals Court Nomination

David J. Barron
Courtesy of David J. Barron

Law School professor David J. Barron ’89 was nominated by President Barack Obama to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in September, yet a politically divided Senate is threatening his confirmation.

After Senate Republicans blocked four of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the major federal appeals court in the District of Columbia, political experts have raised doubts about the successful confirmation of Harvard Law School Professor David J. Barron ’89, a nominee for the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Barron, a former Crimson president who graduated from the Law School two years before Obama, must be approved by the Senate in order to join the First Circuit—an occurrence that seems increasingly unlikely as Democrats fail to break through Republican filibusters that have so far thwarted Obama’s attempts to appoint judges.

Barron's confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.

On Monday, District Court judge Robert L. Wilkins’ nomination to the Federal Court of Appeals became the fourth of Obama’s judicial nominees whose confirmation was blocked by Republicans this year.

Though Democrats control the upper chamber of Congress with 53 senators, they have not been able to muster the 60 votes required to break the Republican filibuster, a procedural tactic designed to prevent an official vote to send nominees to the bench. That confirmation vote would only require a simple majority, which would essentially guarantee the approval of Obama’s picks.


“The Republicans have decided to block all of [Obama’s] nominees, with very few exceptions,” government professor Theda R. Skocpol said. “There might be one or two that squeak through, and it might be Professor Barron, but I can't say if it will be him or if they will end up letting anyone through.”

Republicans voiced few objections to the ideological positions of Wilkins, though debate over previous nominees had centered around divisive political issues such as abortion. “It has always been the case that you’ve got to get bipartisan support for your nominations to the courts because of the filibuster rule in the Senate, which means you have to go to the middle of the political spectrum for your appointments,” government professor Paul E. Peterson said.

Yet regardless of Barron’s ideology, Skocpol said that Republicans seemed to be trying to block all of Obama’s judicial nominees. “The game plan is very clear, and that’s to keep Democrats from getting an imprint on the federal courts,” she said.

Skocpol added that she did not think Republican attempts to block Obama’s nominees would stop any time soon. “It’s not going to change until the Democrats in the Senate get rid of the filibuster rule when it comes to appointments, particularly with judicial nominees,” Skocpol said.

Nevertheless, the White House expressed confidence in the success of their nomination. White House spokesperson Shin Inouye wrote in an email to The Crimson that the Obama administration “continue[s] to urge the Senate to promptly consider all of the President’s judicial nominees and expect[s] Barron to be confirmed.”

Through a spokesperson, Barron declined to speak about his nomination process, deferring to comment from the White House.

Barron’s colleague at the Law School, Alan M. Dershowitz, also said that he expects the confirmation process to be successful. “He’d be a great judge, and I’m confident that when they look at him on the merits, he’ll be confirmed,” Dershowitz said.

Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow said on Sept. 24 that she hoped the Senate would “promptly” confirm Barron’s nomination, but declined to comment on the confirmation process when asked on Nov. 14.

Barron’s nomination came seven months after University President Drew G. Faust named him to head a task force reviewing the University’s electronic communication policies. Barron told The Crimson earlier this fall that, despite his nomination, he would continue to work on the committee, which is expected to issue an official recommendation to Faust in January.

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: November 19, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a date for Barron’s confirmation hearing has not yet been set. In fact, Barron's confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.


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