Reliable Sources have informed me that Judge H. Emory Widener Jr. of the Fourth Circuit has advised the White House that he is taking Senior Status. In 2001, Judge Widener announced he would take Senior Status as soon as a replacement was confirmed. Jim Haynes was nominated to take that slot, but Senator Graham and and Senate Democrats blocked the nomination. Now, Judge Widener is taking Senior Status effective immediately.
Judge Widener graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1944 and has served with distinction in the United States Navy. In 1953 he received his law degree from Washington and Lee University. After serving three years as a district judge, President Nixon appointed him to the Fourth Circuit in 1972. Judge Widener has been a solid conservative vote on the Fourth Circuit and he will be missed. I had the privilege to argue in front of him just last fall. He is a true gentleman and we can only hope a worthy successor will soon be appointed.
With this news, the Fourth Circuit is roughly divided as follows:
Conservative: Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, Chief Judge Karen J. Williams, Judge Dennis W. Shedd.
Moderate: Judge William B. Traxler, Jr. (leans right), Judge Allyson K. Duncan (leans left)
Liberal: Judge M. Blane Michael, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, Judge Robert B. King, Judge Roger L. Gregory
Labels are difficult, depending on the issue and I by no means use the labels as disparagement. I personally am a bit conservative, but I would be honored to have solid judges such as M. Blane Michael or Robert B. King on any panel. Liberal or not, they are respectful to the lawyers, fastidious in preparation, and work very hard to be fair.
However, one need not be a mathematical genius to see that conservative and liberal votes are evenly divided. Ninth Circuitesque decisions that in the past would be en banced and "fixed" are now up in the air. What once was a conservative court is no more. There are five seats open, and to my knowledge, only Conrad has been officially nominated to fill a vacancy. The White House best get moving!