President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated U.S. District Judge Henry Floyd for a vacancy on a federal appeals court, selecting a judge who had a key role in challenges to President George W. Bush's system of indefinite detention.
Floyd, of South Carolina, gained nationwide attention for a 2005 ruling in which he wrote that Bush exceeded his authority when he held a U.S. citizen, José Padilla, without charges. Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in 2002, and the Bush administration detained him as an “enemy combatant,” which Floyd ruled it could not do.
“The Court finds that the President has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold Petitioner as an enemy combatant,” Floyd wrote in the 23-page opinion. He added that Bush may seek that power from Congress.
The decision was a rare judicial rebuke of executive authority in wartime. Although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit later reversed the decision, the administration charged Padilla in civilian court and a jury convicted him of terrorism-related charges.
In another high-profile case in 2005 and 2006, Floyd ruled the government could detain a Qatari national, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. Prosecutors said al-Marri was a material witness important to the investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In 2009, after the Obama administration transferred his case to federal court, al-Marri pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Obama nominated Floyd to the 4th Circuit. As is usual for nominations, he didn’t go into specific reasons for the choice.
“Throughout his career, Henry Floyd has demonstrated unwavering integrity and a firm commitment to public service,” Obama said in a news release. “I am proud to nominate him to serve on the United States Court of Appeals.”
Floyd’s nomination is an unusual selection of a nominee who was previously appointed by a president of the other political party — in this case by Bush, who nominated Floyd in 2003.
The earlier nomination received widespread support. Floyd had the backing of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and then-Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), and the Senate confirmed him on an 89-0 vote. The State of Columbia, S.C., in 2003 described Graham and Floyd as old friends from Pickens, S.C.
In a statement Thursday, Graham said called Floyd a “solid choice” for the 4th Circuit. “I’ve known him for years and know he is a respected lawyer who understands the role of a judge. He compiled an outstanding record as a federal district court judge and is well-prepared for the responsibilities of the appellate court.”
Floyd was a Democratic state legislator in the 1970s and he was in private law practice until he became a state judge in 1992. “It’s always been my ambition to try some really good and complex cases, and most will be in federal court,” Floyd said in 2003, according to The State.
The Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit has jurisdiction over cases in the Carolinas, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. He would be one of three South Carolina-based judges on the 15-seat court, and Obama’s fifth appointee, if confirmed.
Updated Jan. 27 with Graham's statement.