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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Embattled District Court Nominee Faces Uncertainty

No stranger to controversy, Michael O’Neill -- President Bush’s most recent nominee for a seat on the District Court for the District of Columbia -- is finding himself at the center of new polemics lately. The former chief counsel to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) helped to usher the nominations of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito through the Senate. Now, we’ll see if he can get his own off of the ground.

Following President Bush’s announcement that he intended to appoint Mr. O’Neill to a vacancy on the important District Court for the District of Columbia, criticisms of his hyper-partisan past swarmed the internet. It was widely reported that Sen. Specter was forced to hire Mr. O’Neill in an arrangement that quieted opponents to his chairmanship of the all important Senate Judiciary Committee. To many movement conservatives, Sen. Specter lacked the conservative bona fides to fill such a crucial post.

Probably the most disturbing allegation surrounding Mr. O’Neill, however, was that he -- at the behest of senior Justice Department officials (i.e. Alberto Gonzales?) -- included language in the legislation that extended the Patriot Act allowing the president to replace sitting U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval. According to several reports, Sen. Specter, who opposed such an unprecedented expansion of executive authority, had no idea that his aide had included the controversial language into the renewal bill.

And late last week, a new scandal emerged as The New York Times reported that the O'Neill, who now teaches at George Mason University’s law school, had gotten into some trouble for plagiarizing academic articles. One such piece, published in the Supreme Court Economic Review, was actually withdrawn after the paper determined that “substantial portions” had been “appropriated without attribution” to its original author. In fact, it appears that Mr. O’Neill’s propensity for borrowing phrases from other academics actually cost him tenure at GMU, where he remains just an associate professor.

Defiant to the end, Mr. O’Neill refuses to withdraw his name from consideration for the important post and shrugs off the plagiarism controversy. An article in today’s Washington Post quoted Mr. O’Neill as saying, “I have always used a big old file of articles I was working on…I cut and paste information…[and] I lost track of stuff.” Claiming that it was all just a simple mistake, he asked “if you believe this was inadvertent, and it was fairly insignificant, is it something to kill somebody's career for?” Looks like we’ll have to wait to find out.

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