Editorial: Burr needs to end petty political games, back Timmons-Goodson judicial appointment
Posted October 5, 2016
A CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016; Editorial# 8063
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
North Carolina Democrats and Republicans should be ashamed and embarrassed. A current federal District Court judgeship for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for 11 years. It is longer, BY FOUR YEARS, than any other judicial vacancy in the federal courts system.
The confirmation of a nominee to replace Judge Malcolm Howard, who retired Dec. 31, 2005, has been embroiled in partisan political games that have ensnared at least three nominees. It is time for Sen. Richard Burr to bring them to an end.
In December 2006, Thomas Farr, a Republican was nominated by President George W. Bush, to take Howard’s place. For the next two years, Democrats controlled the Senate. North Carolina’s senators then, Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, both Republicans, pleaded to get the nomination considered.
In June 2008, Dole pleaded that Farr’s nomination “languished too long (600 days) without so much as a hearing.” Five months later, Dole was defeated for re-election, Democrat Barack Obama was elected president and with the end of the Senate session, Farr’s nomination ran out.
It would be another five years before Obama would nominate someone to fill the post. InJune 2013 Jennifer May-Parker, chief of the appellate division for the U.S. Attorney’s office for eastern North Carolina, was nominated. She’d been recommended by, among others, Sen. Burr. She’d have been the first black judge seated in the Eastern District – 27 percent of the population in the 44 counties is African-American.
While then U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat, recommended May-Parker, Burr, never did submit her name to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. Burr never explained why he didn’t forward May-Parker’s name. The nomination, which required the OK of both senators, languished.
Obama didn’t make another nomination until late April of this year – recommending Patricia Timmons-Goodson – a former justice on the N.C. Supreme Court and vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. If Timmons-Goodson gains Senate approval, she’d be the first African-American on the Eastern District federal bench.
Immediately Burr, embroiled in a re-election battle to keep his seat, announced he’d block the nomination. He called the nomination “brazenly political.” He complained earlier he’d worked with Hagan and Obama to fill the vacancy and that a deal had been cut. But Obama failed to honor it, Burr said, though he didn’t offer any details. “I remain disappointed that the President broke our agreement.”
The vacancy isn’t merely a political inconvenience. Civil trials take longer to get resolved, the three full-time judges have more than they can handle. Senior judges pick up some of the cases. But it is a growing problem. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, according to a report on WUNC-FM, says it is an emergency and help is needed.
Burr voted against North Carolina native Loretta Lynch, the first African-American attorney General and has opposed two highly qualified black women nominated for the U.S. District Court.
In this election we’ve seen voters expressing deep skepticism and frustration in the way our political leaders conduct the business of governing. Their cynicism and dejection, given Burr and the rest of the Senate’s action on judicial nominations, is well earned.
While the political games surrounding the approval of a judge for the Eastern District may not have started with Burr, it is time – after 11 years -- for him get over it, declare victory and bring this vicious cycle to an end. Patricia Timmons-Goodson is a good and qualified nominee. She will be an excellent addition to the federal bench in eastern North Carolina – and relieve the backlog from 11 years of neglect.
Before the end of the year, Burr should announce he’s made his political point, support her nomination and demand the same from Thom Tillis, North Carolina’s other senator. The two should press for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee and approval by the full Senate.