First-term senators don’t often have the chance to recommend a nominee for a federal circuit judgeship. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) could recommend at least two this year.
North Carolina is expected to have a shot at filling at least two of the four vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit because, despite being the circuit’s most populous state, it has only one judge on the Richmond-based court. In choosing the nominees, President Barack Obama will likely turn to Hagan for advice. She is the state’s first Democratic senator since John Edwards left four years ago.
Hagan, 55, was a lawyer with Nations Bank, which later became part of Bank of America, from 1978 to 1988. After a decade as a state senator from Greensboro, she defeated Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole in November.
She met with several possible nominees for the 4th Circuit a few weeks ago, but she does not appear to have moved quickly to set up an internal system for recommending anyone, says Burley Mitchell Jr., a former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court and a partner in the Raleigh office of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.
“She’s just gotten there,” Mitchell says. “I don’t think that they’ve even worked out any of the mechanisms.”
Hagan’s office would not comment on its process for recommending nominees. Spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan released this statement: “Since North Carolina has been underrepresented on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals for so many years, Sen. Hagan is committed to ensuring that the state’s interests are represented when vacancies are filled.” The office of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) also declined to comment.
The Virginia Bar recently interviewed possible nominees to the 4th Circuit at the request of that state’s two Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, who like Hagan are in their first terms. The bar is sending the senators a report today evaluating the nominees.
North Carolina has no such process, though there is still time for Hagan to create one. “I think she may have decided that she might need something more than them coming in and sitting down with her,” Mitchell says. President George W. Bush announced his first circuit court nominees in May 2001. President Bill Clinton waited until August of his first year.
After the jump, some possible nominees from North Carolina.
In December, Legal Times mentioned three lawyers whom President Bill Clinton nominated to the 4th Circuit and who could be nominated again: S. Elizabeth Gibson, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law; U.S. Bankruptcy Judge J. Rich Leonard of the Eastern District of North Carolina; and Judge James Wynn Jr. of the N.C. Court of Appeals.
In interviews, N.C. lawyers named several other possible nominees but warned that pent-up interest among Democrats means that “dozens” of people are interested. The names include:
The News & Observer of Raleigh has also mentioned Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson of the N.C. Supreme Court.