It’s 2013, not 1950, but someone forgot to tell our federal court system that.
The N.C. NAACP is again voicing its concern about the lack of racial diversity on the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of N.C. bench. The judges who preside over the district, which includes more than 40 counties, are all white, even though blacks and other minorities make up more than 25 percent of the District’s population.
The federal District Court has never been black-friendly in North Carolina, thanks, in no small part, to Jesse Helms, the racist who represented the state in the Senate for a number of decades. Winston-Salem’s own James A. Beaty was nominated to the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of N.C. in the 1990s by President Clinton, but the state’s Eastern and Western districts have never had a black judge.
Washington protocol dictates that a state’s two U.S. Senators forward the names of judges for consideration to the federal bench to the president, who then forwards his nomination for Senate approval. With a Democratic president (who also happens to be the nation’s first black leader) and senator (Kay Hagan), this process should be seamless, yet there has been a vacancy on the Eastern District of N.C. bench since the beginning of 2006.
N.C. NAACP President William Barber indicated to the Raleigh-based News and Observer that U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican and Winston-Salem resident, may be the problem. Burr’s reps say the senator submitted a list of possible nominees, including minorities, to President Obama in 2009, but they won’t divulge the names of the candidates. Hagan has been more forthcoming. Her list of three possible nominees includes two African Americans.
This apparent stalemate may be indicative of why so little gets done in Washington. There is this political dance that must be performed, and dancers on both sides of the political aisle must be careful not to step on toes.
While we are fans of bipartisanship, we don’t believe that political niceties should trump progress. Surely if President Clinton could sneak in Beaty at a time when Helms was still in the Senate, the president can maneuver around any objections that Burr may have. It may cause a mini political battle, but it would be well worth it. As Barber told the News and Observer, if now isn’t the time to diversify the Eastern District of N.C., when is?
“Race has been a factor for more than 200 years,” Barber said. “This should be a unique and historic opportunity to bring diversity.”