There has never been an African-American judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina and for some reason Senator Richard Burr seems intent on keeping it that way.
President Obama has nominated federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker to fill a vacancy on the court. She would be the first African-American and the second woman ever to serve on the Eastern District bench but she has yet to receive a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee because Burr refuses to allow it.
Senate tradition requires both Senators from the home state of a nominee to sign off on a hearing by returning something called a blue slip to the chair of Judiciary Committee. President Obama nominated May-Parker 264 days ago and since then Burr has declined to turn in his blue slip and let the nomination proceed.
And it’s not because there are questions about May-Parker’s qualifications or that she is an especially controversial pick for the court. Burr knows that because he himself endorsed May-Parker for the job in a letter to President Obama on July 21, 2009.
Now he is holding up the nomination of a person he himself encouraged the President to nominate. Burr’s office won’t respond to questions about his stonewalling, saying the Senator does not talk about judicial nominations.
One of Burr’s constituents wrote him a letter a few months ago to try to get some answers and received this reply.
“Throughout my time in the United States Senate I have worked to address the long-standing (sic) vacancy in the Eastern District of North Carolina. In July 2009, I provided a list of recommendations to President Obama with candidates who could fill this position, along with recommendations for other judicial vacancies in North Carolina. While it is my policy not to publicly discuss conversations I have had with the White House regarding these recommendations, I am committed to seeing that our judicial vacancies are filled with qualified judges.”
Got that? Burr is citing the letter he wrote to the President endorsing May-Parker for the court in reply to a question about why he is holding up a hearing on the nomination of May-Parker for the court.
And it’s not like the court is running smoothly while Burr stonewalls. The seat in the Eastern District has been vacant since December 2005, making it the longest federal district court vacancy in the country.
Sharon McCloskey with NC Policy Watch reported last fall that in the last seven years the district’s caseload grew so much that it took longer for a civil case to move from filing through trial than in any other district in the country except one in California.
And Burr and Senator Kay Hagan have signed off on other federal court nominations. Judges in the Middle District in Greensboro and the Western District in Asheville were given hearings and confirmed in the last few years.
But May-Parker is forced to wait because Senator Burr won’t allow her nomination to proceed and refuses to explain why.
The federal system of justice and the people in Eastern North Carolina deserve better than this.
Senator Burr needs to stop stonewalling and let the nomination proceed.