Thursday, May 11, 2006

Will the Fourth Circuit Remain the Most Conservative??

The Fourth Circuit is regarded as the most conservative in the nation. This could quickly change with the departure of Judge Luttig coupled with the troubled nominations of Boyle and Haynes.

Right now, the judges of the Fourth are loosely grouped as follows:

Chief Judge William W. Wilkins
Judge H. Emory Widener, Jr.
Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III
Judge Paul V. Niemeyer
Judge Karen J. Williams
Judge Dennis W. Shedd

Judge William B. Traxler, Jr. (leans right)
Judge Allyson K. Duncan (leans left)

Judge M. Blane Michael
Judge Diana Gribbon Motz
Judge Robert B. King
Judge Roger L. Gregory

Labels are difficult, depending on the issue. For example, with "tough on crime" issues, one could easily put Judges King and Traxler (both former prosecutors) with the conservative judges. And Nixon appointee Judge Emory Widener is known to march to the beat of his own drummer, especially in the last few years. But, the above is about the best we can do as a general matter.

Right now, the conservatives have six votes out of 12. Judge Widener has indicated that his senior status will be effective as soon as his replacement is confirmed. William Haynes has been nominated as Widener's replacement, but it looks like that nomination is dead because of the torture memos.

Regarding the Boyle nomination, Democratic members of the Gang of 14 seem poised to request that Judge Boyle be recommitted to the Judiciary Committee. This would likely mean the death of his nomination as well.

With mid-term elections likely to go poorly for the GOP, it will be very difficult for a conservative nominee to sail through--especially with the Luttig seat now open. If Judge Widener decided to simply take senior status regardless of whether his replacement is confirmed, then that would leave the core conservatives with 5 votes out of 11 (maybe six in a pinch because Judge Traxler does lean toward the conservatives). If the three open seats are filled by moderates, or after the next presidential election by liberals, the conservatives could easily find themselves in the minority on many issues.

Yep, things on the Fourth--they are a changin'.

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