Opinion

Commentary: Federal court vacancies must be filled

For nearly two decades, North Carolina Democrats and Republicans have clumsily mud-wrestled as each side tried to put its favorites on a vitally important federal court while blocking the other's picks. Only one nominee, Republican Allyson Duncan of Raleigh, garnered enough bipartisan support to claim a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Is the log jam about to break? It should. President Obama has nominated two excellent Tar Heel candidates, Jim Wynn of Cary and Albert Diaz of Charlotte, and there appears to be no good reason they shouldn't be moved through the confirmation process with dispatch.

Barring wholly unexpected disclosures of a negative sort, any delays would amount to nothing but a continuation of the ridiculous partisan gamesmanship that in recent years has limited the 15-seat court to one North Carolina member.

The 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, is for most purposes the last stop in the federal judicial system for cases arising in North Carolina. It's the rare case indeed that goes to the U.S. Supreme Court. So judges on the appeals court exercise a great deal of power in this state's affairs, along with those of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and South Carolina. The most populous state in that group -- North Carolina -- surely is entitled to more than one judge who can apply the law with the benefit of home-state expertise.

Wynn, a long-serving member of the N.C. Court of Appeals, was caught up in senatorial squabbling when he was nominated to the 4th Circuit by President Clinton. He became one of several nominees blocked by the late Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, who was smarting over the Democrats' treatment of a nominee he supported.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

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