Judicial name dropping | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Judicial name dropping

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2009 at 3:37 PM

Recent news articles have reported on the slow pace of President Obama in nominating candidates to fill federal judicial openings. Arkansas has three openings, with another on the way in Fort Smith from a coming retirement.

U.S. senators have sent three nominees for each of the openings, but no action has followed from the White House.

Now comes word that the White House might be willing to consider more candidates, particularly for at least one of the two openings in the Eastern District of Arkansas. Racial diversity seems to be the issue.

So far, nominees are Chris Heller, Denise Reid Hoggard and Amelia Mosley Russell to fill retiring Judge Jim Moody's seat and Chip Welch, Mariam Hopkins and Judge Price Marshall to succeed Judge Bill Wilson.

The thinking has been that Marshall was the favorite for Wilson's seat, a pick of Sen. Lincoln. Things were hazier on the other slot, though Russell, as wife of Sen. Mark Pryor's chief of staff, had some political connections (and a resume showing some past support for Republican presidential candidates.)

I've been told the NAACP  expressed displeasure with the all-white slate offered for the two Eastern District judgeships. A slate of three for a western district judgeship in South Arkansas also was all-white until one of the candidates died and was replaced on the list by a black contender, Carlton Jones, a deputy prosecutor in Texarkana.

It's unknown if the White House is insisting on more diversity in candidates or not. But, for whatever reasons, local lawyers have begun writing the senators on behalf of other judicial candidates. One letter from a prominent civil rights lawyer to Lincoln said he understood that "time remains for the addition of names to be submitted." That particular letter, a copy of which was provided to me, endorsed Arkie Byrd, a black lawyer and partner to the politically influential Richard Mays.

Only the president knows for sure. As I've said before, my primary interest is in filling vacancies while the Democrats control the Senate. U.S. attorney jobs also remain open here.

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