All eyes will be on President Bush’s judicial nominations in the new year. The Fourth Circuit, long considered a conservative stronghold, now has several open seats. That court has consistently sided with the Bush administration in legal challenges to its national security policies, and more than one of its judges was believed to be on the President’s short list for the Supreme Court. However, as the Washington Post highlighted this week, the departure of a number of prominent conservatives to private sector jobs and retirement will leave the court split with six Republican and five Democratic appointees in July, with four spots to be filled. Thus, the court’s reliability as an unfailing conservative ally of the administration is now uncertain.
Even under the Republican controlled Senate, some of the President’s nominees to the Fourth Circuit were too controversial to win approval, including U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, Jr. whose nomination the Center opposed due to his record of ignoring established legal precedents regarding important anti-discrimination protections. Now that the balance of power in the Senate has shifted, nominees will face greater scrutiny by the Judiciary Committee. Whether this will lead the President to nominate candidates who are not conservative ideologues, and who respect constitutional rights and civil liberties, remains to be seen. We will be watching – and ready to respond!