President Barack Obama today nominated two state judges from North Carolina to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, taking a big step toward filling vacancies on the depleted appellate court.
One nominee, Judge James Wynn Jr. of the N.C. Court of Appeals, was also a choice of President Bill Clinton, but then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) blocked Wynn’s nomination. The other nominee, Judge Albert Diaz, is a special trial judge for complex business cases. Both Diaz and Wynn have experience as reserve military judges.
In a statement, Obama called them “exceptional public servants” who would be “esteemed additions” to the Richmond-based court.
The announcement brings the total Obama nominations for the 4th Circuit to four, after the nominations of U.S. District Court Judge Andre Davis of Maryland and Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara Keenan. Davis and Keenan are still awaiting Senate confirmation. Five of the 15 seats on the 4th Circuit are vacant, giving Obama a chance to remake a historically conservative court.
Diaz and Wynn would add racial and geographic diversity to the 4th Circuit. Diaz would be the court’s only Hispanic member, while Wynn would be its third African American. They would triple the number of active 4th Circuit judges from North Carolina, the largest state in the circuit by population.
According to his White House biography, Diaz (Wharton, NYU Law, Boston University MBA) started as a lawyer in the U.S. Marine Corps Legal Services Support Section. He then moved to the Navy’s Office of the Judge Advocate General as an appellate counsel. As an associate at Hunton & Williams, he stayed in the Marine Corps Reserves as an appellate defense counsel and as a reserve judge on the trial and appellate levels. He has been a state Superior Court judge since 2001, focusing on complex business cases since 2005.
Wynn (UNC Chapel Hill, Marquette Law, Virginia LLM) sits on North Carolina’s second-highest court. He briefly served on the state Supreme Court by appointment, until he lost an election to retain the seat. Before he became an appellate judge in 1990, Wynn was in private practice and served as a public defender, according to his White House biography. He is a trial judge and captain in the U.S. Navy Reserves.