Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bipartisanship and Judicial Appointments

By Lisa Grafstein

President Obama will soon begin making nominations to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals as four of the 15 seats on that Court are currently vacant. Of the five states that make up the circuit (North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland) North Carolina has the fewest judges on the Court, even as the state has the largest population in the Circuit.

The sole North Carolinian on the Fourth Circuit – Judge Allyson Duncan -- was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003. Conventional wisdom is that North Carolinians will be appointed to at least two of the open seats, although it would take all four seats to bring the state into relative parity in terms of population. Nevertheless, all seem to agree that we have been woefully under-represented for years.

Senator Kay Hagan has pledged to move nominations forward in a bipartisan way. Senate rules have permitted a Senator from a nominee’s home state to withhold a “blue slip” and thereby impede the nomination process for a particular nominee. She has argued that the era of partisan use of blue slips should end. Although there has long been political obstruction, Judge Duncan’s nomination in 2003 proceeded (and she was confirmed 93-0) during a Republican presidential administration when a Democratic Senator, John Edwards, was in office.