WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's choice of David Barron to serve as a U.S. federal appeals court judge will undergo a crucial test on Wednesday when the Senate takes a procedural vote amid controversy over the nominee's role in authorizing drone strikes against American citizens.
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky tried to persuade the Senate to delay votes on the nomination until the Obama administration releases a memo Barron wrote as the Justice Department's legal counsel laying the groundwork for drone attacks against Anwar al-Awlaki.
Al-Awlaki was both a U.S. citizen and a senior leader of Al Qaeda, the group that orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. He was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
"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.
Barron, now a Harvard Law School professor, 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. It is one rung below the U.S. Supreme Court.
The nominee's prospects brightened, however, when Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon 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."
"I am going to vote yes on Mr. Barron's nomination," he added.
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.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan, editing by G Crosse)