UPDATED (3:25 p.m.)
Chief Judge Karen Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit announced her retirement yesterday in a letter to the White House, the clerk of the court confirmed this morning. Williams is stepping down due to illness.
The court clerk, Patricia Connor, said Judge William Traxler Jr., who has served on the 4th Circuit since 1998, is chief judge effective today. Williams, chief judge since 2007, took her seat on the 4th Circuit in 1992. Connor called Williams, a South Carolina native, a pleasure to work with. Williams was not available for comment this morning, and the White House declined to release the judge's retirement letter.
The retirement opens up another seat on the historically conservative 15-judge court, which now has five vacancies. So far, President Barack Obama has nominated one judge to the bench, Andre Davis, whose nomination is pending in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-3 in support of Davis.
A longtime colleague on the 4th Circuit, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, said Williams’ retirement announcement was a surprise. Wilkinson declined to identify Williams’ illness but said: “This disease will have a very tough opponent.”
“She’s generous, even-handed, kind and devoted to this institution,” Wilkinson said. “I think she had a unique warmth and grace. She was a wonderful colleague and a wonderful chief judge who represented the kind of civility and decency that I think is the essence of the 4th Circuit.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) issued a statement this afternoon in which he said he was sad that Williams is retiring.
"Judge Williams is the epitome of a well-reasoned jurist," Graham said in the statement. "She understands the difference between upholding the law and a judge making law." Graham called Williams "a role model for a jurist and citizen. We will be praying for her and her family in the days ahead."
Chief Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said in an e-mail to The National Law Journal this afternoon: "I can only say that I am very saddened and that Judge Williams and her family will be in my prayers. She has been a great public servant and a good friend to all."