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U.S. drone-strike policy inflames Senate vote on court nominee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's choice to serve as a U.S. federal appeals court judge cleared an important procedural hurdle on Wednesday despite controversy over a memorandum the nominee wrote authorizing drone strikes against U.S. citizens.

The Senate voted 52-43 to limit debate on the nomination of David Barron, who was a high-ranking official in the Department of Justice office of legal counsel and is now a Harvard Law School professor.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky failed to get the chamber to delay votes until the Obama administration releases a memo Barron wrote in 2010 laying the groundwork for a 2011 drone attack in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was an al Qaeda leader.

"There is no legal precedent for killing American citizens not directly involved in combat and ... any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court," Paul said during debate of the nomination.

The Justice Department is expected to make the memo public after classified information is redacted. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that senators have had access to the unredacted version of the memo for their review.

The nominee's prospects brightened earlier on Wednesday when Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, an influential Democrat, announced on the Senate floor that he would support the nomination.

Wyden said that the administration's decision to release the Barron memo was "a very constructive step."

Barron has been chosen to serve as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which reviews cases from lower federal courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Grant McCool)

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