Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday made a last-ditch call for senators to oppose an Obama administration nominee who Paul says worked against the Constitution to justify the killing of Americans overseas without due process.
The Senate on Wednesday afternoon was scheduled to hold a key procedural vote on the nomination of David Barron to be a U.S. circuit judge. Barron, now a Harvard professor, worked in the Obama administration's Justice Department.
Late Tuesday, the administration said it would release one memo from Barron in an attempt to garner support for his nomination in the Senate. The memo is thought to be the basis for the killing of Americans overseas, and in particular Anwar al-Awlaki, who was believed to be a recruiter for Al Qaeda.
But Paul argued on the Senate floor that the issue is not whether the administration will release Barron's memo or memos in full.
"The debate is not about transparency. It is about the substance of the memos," Paul said.
"I cannot and will not support a lifetime appointment of someone who believes it is okay to kill an American citizen not involved in combat without a trial," he continued.
Paul said senators should not feel "placated" by the release of the memo, and noted that the administration is only releasing the document to help speed along Barron's nomination. However, he said if the memo is so important to some, the Senate should be given time to read it an understand it.
But Paul also argued that enough is known about the memo to disqualify Barron.
"I rise today to oppose the nomination of anyone who would argue that the president has the power to kill an American citizen not involved in combat, and without a trial," he said. "Any nominee who rubber stamps and grants such a power to a president is not worthy of being placed one step away from the Supreme Court."
He said the memo violates the Bill of Rights, but denying due process to all Americans regardless of their crimes. He said that while it may be difficult to defend treasonous actions by Americans, the Constitution leaves the government no choice.
"It is admittedly hard to defend the right to a trial for an American citizen who becomes a traitor, and appears to aid and abet the enemy, but we must," he said.
He also said the rights granted in the Bill of Rights must be given to the popular and unpopular, or else those rights lose their meaning.
"It is easy to argue for trials for prom queens," he said. "It is easy to argue for trials for the high school quarterback, or the American Idol winner. It is hard to argue for trials for traitors, and for people who would wish to harm our fellow Americans.
"But a mature freedom defends the defenseless, allows trials for the guilty, protects even speech of the most despicable nature," Paul continued.
[sharequote align="center"]"[A] mature freedom defends the defenseless ... protects even speech of the most despicable nature."[/sharequote]
Paul at time appeared outraged at the idea that the Senate would so easily approve the nomination given Barron's role in undermining the bill of rights.
"How far have we gone?" he asked at one point. "We were once talking about detaining American citizens and objecting that they would get no accusation and no trial. Now we are condoning killing American citizens without a trial.
"Am I the only one who thinks that something so unprecedented as the assassination of an American citizen… that this should not be discussed?"
Paul concluded by saying Barron's nomination could only move forward under new Senate rules that Democrats imposed last November — those rules will allow Barron to move ahead with just a simple majority vote, even if no Republicans support Barron.
Paul said the Democrats' decision to effectively end the filibuster means the Senate can now approve more extreme candidates that no longer need to find support from both political parties.