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The Voice of the Black Community

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Lobbying for more diversity on bench
NAACP presses Burr, Hagan to consider African-American
 
Published Thursday, February 28, 2013 11:03 am
by Herbert L. White

The N.C. NAACP is pushing U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr to nominate an African American to serve the eastern part of the state.


State NAACP President Rev. William Barber wants to arrange a meeting with Hagan and Burr to discuss recommending a black nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District. A seat has been open since Judge Malcolm Howell attained senior status in 2005.


“This long-standing vacancy has been described as a ‘judicial emergency’ by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts,” Barber wrote Burr and Hagan on Jan. 23. “We agree with that assessment. As you both know, no African-American has ever been appointed as a Judge in this District. This is unacceptable. We ask both of you to commit to changing this disgraceful reality.”


The Eastern District encompasses 44 counties and holds trials in Elizabeth City, Wilmington, New Bern, Greenville, New Bern, Fayetteville and Wilmington. The Western District includes 32 counties with trials in Charlotte and Asheville while the Middle District includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Durham.
Hagan, a Democrat, indicated a willingness to meet after the NAACP wrote the senators in January. Burr, a Republican, hasn’t responded, Barber said.


President Barack Obama would make the nomination and the Senate would vote on confirmation.


“Senator Burr submits judicial recommendations that meet the qualifications for the bench, regardless of race or gender,” Burr spokesman David Ward said. “His recommendations to President Obama, submitted in July 2009, did include minorities in every district. We continue to wait for word from the White House on the status of these recommendations."


Hagan’s office didn’t respond to repeated requests for a statement.


The lack of black North Carolinians appointed to the federal bench has long been a political flashpoint. Former Sen. Jesse Helms once opted to leave open a seat on the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rather than approve the nomination of James Wynn in 1999. Wynn was ultimately appointed in 2010 – nine years after Helms’ retirement – with the endorsement of Burr and Hagan.


Barber originally wrote the senators in 2011 urging the recommendation of a black jurist in the Eastern District, which has more African American residents than any federal judicial district in the state.


“If it would help, the NAACP would be pleased to provide you with a list of qualified judicial candidates for your consideration,” Barber wrote. “With or without our assistance, we urge you to act promptly to submit such a list for the President’s consideration.”

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