It looks like a spot is about to open up on the Fourth Circuit, the first vacancy since Judge Thacker was confirmed for the court's final vacancy last year.
Judge Andre Davis, an appointee of President Obama in 2009, will take senior status in February 2014, reports the Maryland Appellate Blog. He is the youngest of three Maryland-based Fourth Circuit judges, and has only been on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for a few years, but is eligible for senior status at the age of 65, after serving nearly two decades on the federal bench.
Judge Davis has been a federal judge since 1995, when he was appointed to the U.S. District Court by President Clinton. The Maryland Appellate Blog notes that he was first nominated for the Fourth Circuit in 2000, but was not confirmed during his first go-round.
The Specifics of Senior Status
The "Rule of 80," from 28 U.S.C. 371(c), determines if and when a judge can enter semi-retirement and take senior status. At age 65, if a judge has at least 15 years of service as an Article III judge (65+15=80), he or she may take senior status. The scale is sliding, up to age 70, where a judge would only need 10 years on the federal bench.
The best part is: they still get paid, so long as the judge is "certified' by the presiding chief of the circuit. Certification requires (a) a 25 percent of normal case load, (b) a lot of grunt work involving motions, cases without oral arguments, or other administrative duties, (c) any combination of the two, (d) the equivalent of a full-time position handling administrative work, or (e) temporary or permanent disability.
Good for the Court?
While it may seem that having a vacancy is bad for the court, this could actually help the court's day-to-day operations. The Maryland Appellate Blog notes that the Fourth Circuit is severely lacking in senior judges, with only one, Judge Clyde Hamilton of South Carolina, still hearing cases. Senior judges serve a vital function in the circuit courts, allowing the court extra judicial staff to fill in panels.
Due to a pair of judges leaving for private practice, the untimely passing of Judge M. Blane Michael in 2011, and Judge Karen Williams' retirement due to early-onset Alzheimer's Disease in 2009, the court has had to borrow senior judges from other circuits to fill their three-judge panels. Once Judge Davis's seat has been filled, so long as he continues to hear cases, it will give the court much flexibility in scheduling and assigning cases.
- Henry Floyd Confirmed for Fourth Circuit in Rare Unanimous Vote (FindLaw's Fourth Circuit Blog)
- Chief Judge Traxler to Pull Double Duty as Chair of Executive Committee (FindLaw's Fourth Circuit Blog)
- Judge Stephanie Thacker Sworn in to Fourth Circuit (FindLaw's Fourth Circuit Blog)