While the blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland continues to draw well-deserved national headlines, the ongoing blockade of nominees to serve on the federal bench in North Carolina’s Eastern District (the longest such blockade in the country by four years) remains in the spotlight as well.
Reporter Jeff Tiberii of WUNC radio has the latest in a new story entitled “Judicial Seat in NC’s Eastern District Remains Vacant After More Than A Decade”:
“Eleven years ago, Mike Easley was North Carolina’s governor, the Carolina Hurricanes began with what would be a Stanley Cup season and Apple had yet to unveil the original iPhone to the public. And on December 31st, 2005, North Carolina Eastern District Judge Malcolm Howard assumed senior status, a form of semi-retirement granted to U.S. federal judges.
Since then, Howard’s vacancy has yet to be filled.
‘That vacancy has remained open for 3,800 days,’ University of Richmond Law Professor Carl Tobias said. ‘It isn’t funny for the judges of the Eastern District or the people who live there, or the two nominees who have not been confirmed. So, I guess it’s just pathetic is what it is.'”
As has been the case for years, Senator Richard Burr — the man personally responsible for the blockade — gave an incomprehensible explanation for his action. After stating that the matter is not an emergency (despite the fact that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts officially labeled it a “judicial emergency” years ago) Burr dismissed President Obama’s latest effort to nominate a judge (former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson) out of hand:
“To make a nomination right now is overtly political … there has never been district court judges nominated this late, who got consideration from the U.S. Senate,” Burr added.
But, of course, Obama has been trying to fill the position for almost his entire presidency and Burr has blocked those efforts (as arcane Senate rules give him the right to do) the entire time. What’s perhaps most striking and troubling about all of this are the racial overtones. Both of Obama’s nominees have been African-American and the Eastern District (which has a higher percentage of African-American residents than any other section of the state) has never had a black judge in its entire history. Here’s Tiberii’s conclusion:
“‘It’s certainly political, we all know that,’ said Democratic U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, whose district extends from Durham to Elizabeth City to New Bern. ‘It smells of racism.’
Like Timmons-Goodson, Butterfield is African-American. And he points out the Eastern District has never had an African-American judge on the bench.
‘The judiciary must be a diverse institution,’ he said. ‘We cannot have an all-white federal district court in the Eastern District of North Carolina that is 35 percent African-American. That is unacceptable.’
For Butterfield, it’s about race. Burr cites politics. And other observers say it’s well beyond time to fill the void.”