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Still vacant after all these years

Perhaps you remember this saga.

Near the end of 2005, U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard stepped down from his seat on the federal bench in eastern North Carolina, moving to senior status and creating an opening for a new judge there.

Years passed and the state’s U.S. senators couldn’t seem to reach an agreement on a nominee for that slot to recommend to the President. In the meantime, Howard — along with two other judges on senior status, James C. Fox, now 86 and W. Earl Britt, 83 — shared his workload.

Then in 2009 the senators threw their support behind federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker, chief of the Appellate Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District in North Carolina, to fill Howard’s slot — one of over 80 district court seats then vacant in the federal judiciary.

If confirmed, May-Parker would have become the first black female federal judge in the history of the Eastern District.

But once President Obama nominated her in 2013, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr — who for years took his senate colleagues to task for holding up judicial nominations — inexplicably blocked the nomination by refusing to submit the “blue slip” evidencing his support, a critical step to moving a judicial candidate to a senate hearing.

May-Parker’s nomination has since lapsed, and Howard’s seat remains vacant.

Plenty of seats elsewhere have been filled, as have new vacancies that have arisen.

The number of district court openings deemed a “judicial emergency” — determined in part by how long a seat has been vacant — is now 32. All of those seats have been open for only a year or two — except for Howard’s.

The chart below shows just how far an outlier North Carolina has become:

nccourts-judicial-emergencies-2016-01-05 (2)

For more on the ongoing judicial vacancy in the Eastern District, read here, here and here.

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