Harvard professor David Barron clears key hurdle toward Boston appeals court position

WASHINGTON—David Barron, a Harvard professor and husband of gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem, cleared a key hurdle to winning confirmation to a powerful position as a federal appellate judge in Boston on Wednesday.

The Senate voted 52 to 43, mostly along party lines, to move Barron’s confirmation forward. A final vote is expected Thursday, and he is expected to be confirmed.

The vote came as the Obama administration signaled it would not block the release of a memo Barron wrote that provided the legal basis for using drone strikes on Americans abroad. Several senators who were publicly skeptical of Barron’s nomination had cited the administration’s reluctance to release the memo as a key source of their concern over confirming him.

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“I’m hopeful that making this memo public will generate the additional pressure“ to open a wider debate on the issues raised in the legal opinion, said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has urged more transparency on a variety of national security issues, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. Wyden, who had not previously committed to supporting Barron, cast a yes vote.

But Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and potential contender for his party’s presidential nomination, said Barron’s role in drafting the memo should disqualify him from a a position “one step away from the Supreme Court.”

“Barron creates out of whole cloth a defense for killing American citizens who have not been tried,” Paul said from the floor.

If confirmed by the Senate for First US Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, he would get a lifetime appointment to an appeals court with jurisdiction over Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico.

A New York appeals court ordered that the administration release redacted versions of the documents to the public last month, after a lawsuit by The New York Times and the ACLU. On Tuesday, the administration decided that it will not appeal the court decision — thus making the memo public — according to the Associated Press, which cited two unnamed administration officials.

Barron’s nomination has been endorsed by several prominent attorney’s and legal groups.