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A project tracking federal judicial nominations and courts.


Michael O'Neill

U.S. District Court for D.C.
Returned to President January 2, 2009


According to several reports, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), as part of the deal to fend off right-wing opposition to his Judiciary chairmanship, was forced to hire Michael O'Neill as Senate Judiciary Committee chief counsel.  Sen. Specter later stated that O'Neill, as his chief counsel, knew about the insertion of language in the Patriot Act extension that allowed Bush to replace U.S. attorneys without Senate approval, and that O'Neill did not notify Specter, who opposed the language when he learned about it.

The New York Times reported that Michael O'Neill published at least five articles with passages that "contain passages that appear to have been lifted from other scholars works without quotation marks or attribution" and that "'Deborah L. Rhode, an authority on legal ethics at Stanford, said the retraction by the Supreme Court Economic Review was 'extremely unusual' and amounted to 'a textbook case of conduct that casts doubt on someone’s fitness for judicial office.'  'That’s a serious form of misconduct in an academic career,' Ms. Rhode said. 'I would think it would be viewed equally seriously in a judicial career. In my judgment, that would be disqualifying.'”

O'Neill blamed “a poor work method.” “I didn’t keep appropriate track of things,” he said. “I frankly did a poor and negligent job.” As law Professor Jonathan Turley has pointed out: "O’Neill agreed to halt his tenure effort 'will reapply for it.' In the meantime, Specter pushed him for the district court, which would give him lifetime tenure of a different sort."

The Washington Post reported that Michael O'Neill admitted that he "lost track of stuff, and I just had catastrophic results," but said he would not withdraw his nomination for a lifetime federal judgeship.

President George W. Bush nominated O'Neill to the U.S. District Court for D.C., which has exclusive jurisdiction or a leading role in deciding how to interpret and whether to uphold and enforce, a wide range of environmental, health, safety, civil rights, consumer and worker protection statutes.

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