Just Say No to O'Neill
At this point, unless a judicial nominee is completely uncontroversial, there's no reason for the Senate Judiciary Committee even to consider a potential judge chosen by President Bush. Michael O’Neill, who is proud to have helped some of the president's more contentious nominees achieve confirmation, would be controversial even in the absence of questions about his ethics as a scholar:
Last year, a peer-reviewed legal journal, the Supreme Court Economic Review, issued a retraction of an article by Mr. O’Neill in 2004. “Substantial portions” of the article, the editors wrote, were “appropriated without attribution” from a book review by another law professor. In addition, at least four articles by Mr. O’Neill in other publications contain passages that appear to have been lifted from other scholars’ works without quotation marks or attribution.
Long passages in the 2004 article are virtually identical to the book review, which was published in 2000 in the Virginia Law Review and was written by Anne C. Dailey, a law professor at the University of Connecticut. [emphasis added]
Accusations of plagarism do not trouble the president. Nor do they bother Sen. Arlen Specter, who argues that "a mistake ... ought not negate an extraordinary record of public service." Putting aside the senator's definition of "extraordinary," it's hard to believe that five separate instances of lifting another writer's work without attribution can reasonably be characterized as a mere "mistake." [more ...]
It's not as if O'Neill is being nominated for a judgeship in Alaska (although no state deserves to get stuck with a judge of questionable ethics):
The White House nominated O'Neill in mid-June to a slot on the federal district court in Washington, one of the nation's most prestigious benches. Now a George Mason University law professor, he also worked as Specter's top aide, helping win confirmation of two Republican Supreme Court justices, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
O'Neill's explanation of his borrowed language would make more sense if the problem had occurred only once:
O'Neill said mistakes were made when he wrote reviews and notes in a single computer file, then was not as careful as he should have been during the writing process. "I have always used a big old file of articles I was working on," he said. "I cut and paste information" into it.
"I lost track of stuff, and I just had catastrophic results," he added.
It's difficult to believe that a writer who copies "substantial portions" of another writer's work doesn't recognize which words are his own and which are borrowed. Apart from his invocation of the "mistakes were made" defense, O'Neill does not sound particularly remorseful:
"I am a creature of the Senate," he said. "If you believe this was inadvertent, and it was fairly insignificant, is it something to kill somebody's career for?"
Of course, O'Neill's current "career" is at George Mason. But that hasn't gone so well in light of the plagiarism accusations.
O'Neill surrendered his tenure at George Mason after a university investigation concluded he had used material from another author, without attribution, in a law review piece published shortly before he achieved the coveted academic status, according to Daniel D. Polsby, dean of the law school. O'Neill remains at the school as an associate professor.
Does O'Neill think his career path gives him a right to ascend to the federal bench without regard to questions about his ethics, just because he thinks they are "fairly insignificant"? Does O'Neill share the common viewpoint of politicians on the right, that cheating is just fine if you get away with it, and "insignificant" if you get caught? Obviously George Mason attaches more significance to his conduct than O'Neill's apologists.
As to O'Neill's distinguished record of "public service":
O'Neill served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and to David B. Sentelle, now chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. O'Neill also shaped criminal justice policy as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission from 1999 to 2005.
Working with Specter on Capitol Hill, he helped draft complex bankruptcy and asbestos legislation, winning plaudits from a bipartisan group of senators when he left to return to teaching in 2007.
So O'Neill served on the Sentencing Commission, an institution fiercely dedicated to a "lock 'em up" philosophy in drug cases and fiercely opposed to the concept that juries, not judges, ought to decide what crimes a defendant actually committed. And he served Justice Thomas in a prestigious and highly sought position (a great resume builder that doesn't exactly count as "public service"). And he helped shepard in Justice Alito, an act that many would view as a public disservice. And of course he helped draft legislation that favored the asbestos industry over workers who were unknowingly contaminated by the toxic effects of asbestos exposure, and legislation that made it harder for consumers who face disastrous debt (often because of tragic health problems, like asbestosis) to make a fresh start.
O'Neill is the Republican version of a dream candidate for a judicial position. He loves corporations, has no sympathy for employees or the economically disadvantaged, and thinks the Executive Branch should play a greater role in sentencing than the Judicial Branch. In 2005, the Senate would have stamped "confirmed" on his forehead. Not this year ... we hope.
Erica Chabot, a spokeswoman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, declined to comment on the nomination yesterday.
Perhaps Senate Democrats and Republicans intend to give him a pass because, after all, he's a "creature of the Senate." Perhaps you should let you own senators know that isn't such a good idea.
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