Monday, December 18, 2006

Conservatives Worried About 4th Circuit Becoming "Liberal"

You gotta laugh like hell at the GOP concern about this. Virginia Democrats (especially potential appeals-court judges) are not exactly "San Francisco liberals."

A growing list of vacancies on the federal appeals court in Richmond is heightening concern among Republicans that one of the nation's most conservative and influential courts could soon come under moderate or even liberal control, Republicans and legal scholars say.

A number of prominent Republican appointees have left or announced plans to leave the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which has played a key role in terrorism cases and has long been known for forceful conservative rulings and judicial personalities.

Republican concerns also are fueled by the pending Democratic takeover of Congress, as several of President Bush's 4th Circuit nominees were already bottled up in the Senate when Republicans ran it. From the GOP's perspective, the situation now will worsen. ...

The 15-member court has three vacancies, and a fourth judgeship will open in July. That would leave the bench with six Republican and five Democratic appointees by summer. In addition, one of those six Republican appointees has announced plans to take senior status as soon as a replacement can be confirmed. Senior judges receive full pay and hear cases but can take a reduced workload and are not considered active-service members of the court.

Some of the 4th Circuit's best-known rulings, upheld by the Supreme Court, include striking down a law allowing rape victims to sue their attackers in federal court and preventing the Food and Drug Administration from regulating tobacco.

In 1999, the 4th Circuit overturned the requirement that police read suspects their rights before interrogating them. The Supreme Court later reaffirmed the Miranda rights.

During the Bush administration, the 4th Circuit has been the court of choice on national security, issuing key rulings that backed the government on the detention of enemy combatants and the prosecution of Sept. 11, 2001, conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. The court's conservative majority has included some of the nation's most prominent judges, including J. Michael Luttig and J. Harvie Wilkinson III.

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