Obama nominates S.C. federal judge to appellate court

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 27, 2011 

WASHINGTON — President Obama has nominated U.S. District Judge Henry F. Floyd to serve on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in a rare promotion of a Republican-appointed federal judge by a Democratic president.

With his nomination, Floyd becomes the first federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush to be elevated by Obama to a judicial post.

“I’m very honored,” Floyd told McClatchy late Wednesday. “I’m pleased to be considered by President Obama.”

Obama praised Floyd in putting his name forward for Senate confirmation to sit on the 4th Circuit bench, which hears federal cases appealed from district courts in the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia.

“Throughout his career, Henry Floyd has demonstrated unwavering integrity and a firm commitment to public service,” Obama said. “I am proud to nominate him to serve on the United States Court of Appeals.”

Floyd was born in Brevard, N.C. and moved with his family as a child to Pickens. He graduated from Wofford College before obtaining his law degree at the University of South Carolina.

Floyd, 63, credited Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of Seneca, S.C., Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, S.C., and former Democratic Rep. John Spratt of York, S.C., with recommending him strongly to Obama.

“He enjoys a fine reputation around the 4th Circuit,” said Carl Tobias, University of Richmond law professor.

One of Floyd’s highest-profile cases after the Senate confirmed him in 2003 to the federal district judgeship was his February 2005 ruling that granted habeas rights to alleged terrorist Jose Padilla.

Padilla, a native of Brooklyn, New York, is among a relatively few number of Americans charged with terrorism.

Padilla, a convert to Islam who moved to Egypt, was charged with approaching al Qaeda members with a plot to set off a “dirty bomb” – a low-level nuclear device -- in the United States.

In June 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that Padilla’s petition for habeas right to appear in civil court must be decided by a federal judge in South Carolina because Padilla had been held at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston.

The case ended up in front of Floyd, who granted Padilla habeas access to the federal courts in February 2005.

“He was very courageous in his ruling in Padilla,” Tobias said. “That was not a popular ruling. He took a lot of flack for that. Any judge would (take flack), but especially a guy appointed by President Bush.”

Harpootlian said senior Bush administration officials were so angered by Floyd’s ruling, they rejected Graham’s request to promote him to the 4th Circuit.

“It speaks volumes about Judge Floyd’s integrity, ruling in an unpopular way for an administration that was considering him for the 4th Circuit,” Harpootlian said.

In an earlier case that drew national headlines, Harpootlian defended Stephen Beckham before Floyd when he was a state judge over the June 1994 contract murder of Beckham’s wife, Vickie Lander, the daughter of former state Sen. Jim Lander.

After Beckham’s conviction, Floyd sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

The Beckham trial was broadcast live nationally on Court TV and later made into an NBC “Dateline” program.

“Everybody in the country who saw him try that case was impressed with his judicial demeanor and knowledge,” Harpootlian said.

Floyd said he knows most of the other 4th Circuit judges because he has sat as a designated – or visiting – judge on the appellate bench to hear dozens of cases over the last seven years.

Floyd said he is close friends with William Trexler, a South Carolina native who is now chief judge of the 4th Circuit. Floyd is also friends with Dennis Shedd, the third active judge from South Carolina on the appellate bench.

If confirmed, Floyd would be the circuit’s 15th active judge, filling its last seat.

Clyde Hamilton of South Carolina is a senior judge on the bench, a semi-retired status that enables him to hear a reduced number of cases.

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