Senate confirms Judge Davis

By: Steve Lash Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer, The Daily Record, November 9, 2009

After five months of delay, the U.S. Senate voted 72-16 on Monday evening to confirm Judge André M. Davis to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Davis, 60, a judge on the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, will take the seat left vacant by the death of Judge Francis D. Murnaghan Jr. on Aug. 31, 2000.

"I'm humbled," Davis said after the vote. "I'm pleased. I'm looking forward to this new phase of my judicial career."

Davis added that he hopes to take the judicial oath for the 4th Circuit "in the near future" and be a member of the appellate court for its December sitting.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., praised both Davis and his predecessor during Senate debate on the confirmation late Monday afternoon.

"Today we finally have a nominee worthy to fill this seat," she added, noting that Davis was once Murnaghan's law clerk. "He is a man of the highest legal caliber. ... He'll stand up for the Constitution that made our country great."

Her remarks were seconded by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., who said Davis has "an understanding of our Constitution and the protections it provides our citizens."

Sessions' opposition

Davis' nomination had been in legislative limbo since early June, when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-3 to recommend that the full Senate vote for his confirmation. All 12 of the committee's Democrats voted in his favor, as well as four of the panel's seven Republicans.

However, Davis' foes included the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who led the opposition during Monday's floor debate.

Sessions said Davis, as a federal district judge, had "a number of troubling" reversals in cases in which he had improperly suppressed confessions from defendants. Davis decisions showed an "anti-law-enforcement bias" in these rulings, Sessions said.

But Maryland lawyers who regularly argue in the federal courts hailed Davis as a remarkably fair jurist worthy of elevation to the appellate court.

"He's an extremely qualified judge," said Geoffrey H. Genth, a partner with Kramon & Graham P.A. in Baltimore and president of the Maryland chapter of the Federal Bar Association. "He's extremely smart and tries to do justice in every case."

Linda Hitt Thatcher, the chapter's president-elect, called Davis' nomination "outstanding," saying he is a thoughtful judge who embodies judicial temperament.

"He is the perfect candidate" for the 4th Circuit, said Thatcher, of the Thatcher Law Firm LLC in Greenbelt.

Long-time University of Maryland law professor William Reynolds said Davis will bring "a more liberal point of view than the 4th Circuit has traditionally been, but he is by no means ideological."

Reynolds, who taught Davis conflict of laws, said his former student "wants to do justice. He wants to do the job of a judge not as someone with a particular point of view."

Davis was first nominated by then President Bill Clinton in the months following Murnaghan's death, but the nomination never came to a vote in the Republican-led Senate before George W. Bush became president in January 2001.

In one of his first judicial nominations, President Barack Obama turned to Davis to fill the long-vacant seat.

With Davis' appointment, four vacancies remain on the 15-member Richmond-based court, which has jurisdiction over federal cases in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North and South Carolina.

Another nominee, Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara M. Keenan, was approved by unanimous vote of the Judiciary Committee late last month and awaits a vote by the full Senate.

Last week, the president nominated two men from North Carolina. Judge Jim Wynn is on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, while Judge Albert Diaz is a Special Superior Court Judge for complex business cases. Diaz would be the court's first Hispanic judge.