Barron Confirmation Remains Uncertain

The Senate confirmation process of Harvard Law School professor David J. Barron ’89 continues to provoke controversy as a vocal group of senators from both the left and right call for the public release of memos, which Barron allegedly wrote during his time as a lawyer for the Justice Department. Those memos established the legal justification for the Obama administration’s controversial drone policy.

Barron, who was nominated in September by President Barack Obama for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the first circuit, allegedly penned papers that justified the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American-born terrorist who was killed in a targeted drone strike in 2011 in Yemen.


On May 5, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to every U.S. senator urging them to refrain from supporting Barron before reading the memos he penned.

The ACLU’s letter called the memos “the purported legal foundation for a large-scale killing program that has resulted in…as many as 4,700 deaths by drone attacks.”


The White House subsequently offered senators a chance to view the papers, which are currently available for senators to review in a secure area, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s statement at a press conference yesterday.

Although the 2nd Court of Appeals ordered the administration to publicly release a redacted version of the papers last month, the White House lawyers have yet to disclose them.

"David Barron is highly qualified, but as one of the authors of the Anwar al-Awlaki opinion, Barron's nomination understandably raises key questions,” said Democratic Senator Mark Udall in a statement. “Unless the White House complies, I cannot support David Barron's nomination."

The nomination has also drawn concerns from the other side of the aisle. Republican Senators Rand Paul and Chuck Grassley, critics of the Obama administration’s drone policy, have called for the public release of the memos.

Despite objections, others have voiced support for Barron.

Barron’s colleagues, law professors Laurence H. Tribe ’62 and Charles Fried, called for his confirmation in a co-written letter to the Boston Globe published yesterday.

“Barron is brilliant lawyer who will make an excellent judge,” Tribe and Fried wrote. “What is clear to us is that Barron would decide cases based solely on the relevant sources of legal authority, including binding precedent, and that his political views would in no way distort his legal judgment.”

Law School dean Martha L. Minow also lauded Barron both for his knowledge of the law and his objectivity.

“David Barron’s work as a lawyer and as a scholar is absolutely top-notch and so is his ability to stand back from contentious subjects, consider the facts, and provide thorough, sage, and fair analysis,” Minow said in a statement to The Crimson.

Barron, who served as president of The Crimson and attended Harvard Law School before returning to teach, is married to the Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Juliette N. Kayyem ’91.

This is not the first roadblock that Barron’s nomination has faced. Barron’s liberal interpretation of the constitution also drew criticism during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. Barron narrowly passed through committee on vote of 10-8, which split down party lines.

The full Senate has yet to vote on his confirmation.

—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.


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