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hagan-and-burrWith the midterm elections finally out of the way, lawmakers will return to Washington in the days ahead for what is commonly referred to as a “lame duck” session. Among many important piece of  business, are numerous judicial nominees that must get confirmed to fill vacancies on our nation’s federal courts and keep the wheels of justice moving.

Going into the 2014 lame duck period, there are 64 current judicial vacancies and 34 nominees pending in the Senate. As we’ve detailed at length in this space previously, two of these vacancies are here in North Carolina and one has sat empty for eight years.

In such an environment, it is vital for the Senate to stay in session until every judicial nominee on the floor gets a yes-or-no vote. If these judges are not confirmed, our federal courts will simply not be able adequately handle the numerous critical issues – from marriage equality to voting rights to health care to immigration – that affect all of us.

Happily, there are historical precedents for this kind of swift action: In the 2010 and 2012 lame duck sessions, a total of 32 judicial nominees were confirmed. Senators should apply a similar focus this session. In the 2002 lame duck session, Democrats controlled the Senate. In a spirit of bipartisanship, even though they were the opposition party, they nonetheless confirmed 20 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. Republicans today should put aside politics and get to work to get nominees waiting for a vote confirmed.

Obviously, it is also important to work to confirm judges before the end of the year because the new Republican Senate it is likely to obstruct judicial nominees with the hope that a Republican president will be elected in 2016. Indeed, many expect that the GOP leadership will change the rules to slow judicial confirmations to a crawl and reinstitute obstruction by filibuster.

Instead of judges who side with corporate interests and whittle away at laws that protect our rights, the United States needs judges who support equality, protect access to health care, and are committed to safeguarding the Constitution. That’s why we need the Senate to act on judicial nominees before the end of the year.

The good people at the Center for American Progress have established a website — WhyCourtsmatter.org — that allows you to learn more about (and participate) in the effort to spur Senate action. Click here to learn more.

News
Loretta Biggs

Former North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge Loretta Biggs – Photo: Allman, Spry, Davis, Leggett and Crumpler -www.allmanspry.com

Though Senator Richard Burr continues to block his nomination of federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker to serve as a  U.S. District Court judge for North Carolina’s Eastern District, President Obama acted yesterday to fill another, newer North Carolina federal judicial vacancy when he nominated former state Court of Appeals judge Loretta Copeland Biggs of Winston-Salem to fill a seat in the  state’s Middle District.

This is from the White House announcement:

Judge Loretta Copeland Biggs has been a partner at Allman Spry Davis Leggett Crumpler, PA, since May 2014 and previously was a partner and managing shareholder at Davis Harwell Biggs, PA, from 2003 to 2014. From 2001 to 2002, Judge Biggs served as a Judge on the Court of Appeals of North Carolina. From 1994 to 2001, she worked in the United States Attorneys Office for the Middle District of North Carolina, serving as Executive Assistant United States Attorney from 1997 to 2001. Judge Biggs also served as a Judge on the Forsyth County District Court from 1987 to 1994 and as an Assistant District Attorney in Forsyth County from 1984 to 1987. She began her legal career as Staff Counsel for The Coca-Cola Company from 1979 to 1982. Judge Biggs received her J.D. with honors in 1979 from Howard University School of Law and her B.A. cum laude in 1976 from Spelman College.

Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who has worked to push the White House to diversify the federal bench in North Carolina, issued a statement praising the nomination: Read More

Commentary

Richard Burr 2Those looking for some good news from the nation’ capital — any good news — got a small dose over the weekend in this story in the New York Times about the Obama administration’s progress in restoring a measure of balance to the federal judiciary. As the Times reported, after five years and an important rule change to limit the use of the filibuster in the Senate, the federal courts are, today, somewhat less completely under the thumb of the corporate and ideological right.

The shift, one of the most significant but unheralded accomplishments of the Obama era, is likely to have ramifications for how the courts decide the legality of some of the president’s most controversial actions on health care, immigration and clean air. Since today’s Congress has been a graveyard for legislative accomplishment, these judicial confirmations are likely to be among its most enduring acts.

One ongoing and absurd exception to this progress, however, is Senator Richard Burr’s shameful and unexplained blockade of federal District Court nominee Jennifer May-Parker, which is now going on 15 months old. Given the progress that the U.S. Senate has made in this realm by dispensing with filibuster on such matters, let’s hope Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont soon takes the next logical step by doing away with the obsolete and egregiously-abused “blue slip” rule that is enabling Burr’s petulant, one-man Jess Helms impersonation.

Read the entire Times article by clicking here.

Uncategorized

The latest news story from NC Policy Watch Courts and Law Reporter Sharon McCloskey — “All white and overwhelmingly male: Latest departure leaves NC federal courts among lest diverse in the nation” — contains a lot of information that will leave caring and thinking people frustrated and even ticked off, but this passage stands out:

James Beaty, the lone African-American judge on the state’s federal district court, stepped down from his position on the state’s Middle District – which covers the areas from Durham to Winston-Salem – moving to senior status at the end of June.

The result?

North Carolina has one of the whitest and least diverse groups of federal district court judges in the country.

That’s a perception problem for the courts at the very least, particularly given that the ugliness of racial politics has resurfaced in North Carolina.

As Andrew Cohen points out in his article in The Atlantic last November, asking why there aren’t more black judges in the South:

“Indeed, at a time when minorities are being disenfranchised by Republican officials in Florida and Alabama and other Southern states, the continuing lack of black representation on our federal benches sends another strong message of a tolerance for unequal justice.”

And if that doesn’t get you fired up, check out this graphic: Read More

Uncategorized

Women’s and civil rights groups will gather this morning outside the federal court house in Raleigh to protest Senator Richard Burr’s 10-month-plus, one-man filibuster of federal court nominee Jennifer May-Parker. This is from the state NAACP:

JMP_Press Conference“Women’s groups associated with the Forward Together Moral Movement will hold a news conference this morning at 9:00 a.m. in front of the U.S. Federal Court House at 310 New Bern Avenue in Raleigh. Groups, including NC Women in the NAACP, Planned Parenthood of Central NC, North Carolina Women United, NC NOW, NC AdvaNCe and others, will call on Senator Richard Burr to do the right thing and allow Ms. Jennifer May-Parker’s nomination to move forward.

The United States District Court seat for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant since 2005, burdening the system and hindering the rights of citizens. The eight year vacancy has been called a “judicial emergency” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Ms. May-Parker, who has yet to receive a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee due to Senator Burr’s refusal, has the potential to become the first African American and the first African American woman to serve as judge in the District.”