An African-American has never served as a federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina and Senator Richard Burr apparently intends to keep it that way, judging by his knee-jerk opposition to President Obama’s latest nominee to fill a seat on the court that has been vacant for 10 years, the longest vacancy in the country.
Obama twice nominated federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker for the seat but Burr blocked her nomination by refusing to turn in his blue slip, part of the antiquated Senate custom that requires senators to sign off on the nominee from their home state before the Senate Judiciary Committee can hold hearings on the nomination.
Burr’s refusal to support May-Parker was made all the more curious by the fact that in 2009 he supported her for the court.
He never responded publicly to questions about why he then stood in the way of May-Parker. His office would only say the Senator does not talk about judicial nominations.
But in a letter to a constituent at the time Burr said he had provided a list of recommendations to President Obama with candidates who could fill this position, including May-Parker and that he was committed to seeing that our judicial vacancies are filled with qualified judges.
In other words, Burr cited a letter he wrote to President Obama endorsing May-Parker in reply to the question about why he was holding up a hearing on the nomination of May-Parker for the court.
Seven years later, the Eastern District is still struggling to cope with its caseload with the vacancy to the point that the Administrative Office of the United States Courts has designated it an emergency to fill the seat.
And NC Policy Watch reported in 2014, in the prior seven years the district’s caseload grew so much that it took longer for a civil case to move from filing through trial than in any other district in the country except one in California.
With all that as a backdrop, last week Obama announced a new nominee for the court, former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson from Fayetteville, a widely respected jurist who is currently Vice-Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
The ink on the press release about her nomination was barely dry when Burr announced he was blocking Timmons-Goodson’s nomination too, absurdly calling it “a brazenly political nomination.”
Burr also claimed that he had worked in good faith with the Obama Administration on North Carolina nominees and it’s true that Burr has supported other nominations to federal courts in the state.
But for some reason he can’t seem to extend the same cooperation to fill the seat that needs filling the most.
The nomination of Timmons-Goodson is hardly brazen. It’s a solid choice for a seat that should have been filled years ago and Burr is doing North Carolina and the federal judiciary a disservice by playing political games now.