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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Only Their Robes Are Black

This week on Law.com, Pamela McLean criticized President Bush’s failure to nominate African Americans to federal judgeships, most notably to courts located in southern states. During his first six years in office, the president has appointed only eighteen black judges out of 263 federal judgeships he has filled. He has not nominated any black judges for the sixty-two vacancies on district courts in nine of the eleven southern states that make up the 4th, 5th and 11th Circuits: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia or West Virginia. He has appointed one black district court judge each in Florida and Maryland. According to the article:

The lack of black nominees has caused some African-American lawyers to express concern that retiring black judges appointed years ago will leave a new crop of Southern lawyers who may never see a black judge on the federal bench. Mississippi and Alabama have not had a black judge appointed in more than 20 years. ...

In Alabama, where all nine Bush nominees have been white, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., said, "It is inconceivable to me that there has not been a black judge of caliber to serve on the federal bench in the last 20 years.

"The first thing you hear is they can't find anyone qualified. That is not plausible, given the number of black lawyers in the state," Davis said.

Similarly, the president has not appointed any black judge for vacancies on the 5th or 11th Circuits; although he has appointed two black judges to the 4th Circuit (including Roger Gregory, who was originally nominated by President Clinton). According to McLean, the president and Senator Lott share blame for the lack of African-American circuit court appointees from Mississippi:

Presidents typically consider judicial recommendations by senators from the state affected. In the 5th Circuit, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., put the only black federal judge in the state on a short list of recommendations for the 5th Circuit …. But Chief Judge Henry T. Wingate, a 1985 Reagan appointee to Mississippi's Southern District, was passed over both times in favor of white candidates….

Carlton Reeves, president-elect of the Magnolia Bar Association, which represents black lawyers, said Lott, "has never, to my knowledge, consulted with the Magnolia Bar, and we have been in existence since 1955."

At times, some of the president's allies have accused opponents of his judicial nominees of religious or ethnic bigotry -- despite the fact that the nominees that they've opposed have been off-the-chart conservatives. But we wonder why there's no sense of outrage among the president's supporters over the fact that the president has not nominated a single African-American district court judge and only two appellate judges in the states of the southern circuits where more than fifty percent of black Americans live and where they make up nearly twenty percent of the total population of those states.

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