Senate Confirms Two for Carolina Federal Judgeships

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Thursday confirmed two nominees to federal district courts in North and South Carolina, one of which will end the longest judicial vacancy in the country.

This 2011 photo provided by the UNC School of Law shows Richard E. Myers. After nearly 14 years of foot-dragging and politics, the nation’s longest federal court vacancy ended Thursday with the U.S. Senate confirming Myers to a North Carolina trial court seat in a bipartisan vote. (Steve Exum/UNC School of Law)

Richard Myers will fill a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina that has been vacant since 2005 after earning confirmation in a 68-21 vote Thursday afternoon, while Sherri Lydon will take a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina after a 76-13 vote.

Myers has since 2004 worked as a law professor at the University of North Carolina, coming to the university after spending time as a federal prosecutor in California and North Carolina. His work at the university focuses on criminal law and procedure and the Fourth Amendment.

A 1998 graduate of UNC and member of the Federalist Society, Myers clerked for conservative D.C. Circuit Judge David Sentelle, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan who took over the seat Justice Antonin Scalia held on the influential appeals court.  Myers was born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to the United States when he was young.

His confirmation ends the longest court vacancy in the country, as he will take over a seat that was vacated in December 2005 when Judge Malcolm Howard took senior status. At more than 5,000 days, the seat has been vacant for more than twice as long as any other federal court position in the country.

President Barack Obama attempted to fill the seat with two nominees during his presidency, but Senator Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, blocked both.

President Donald Trump also tried to fill the seat with North Carolina attorney Thomas Farr, but his nomination failed in November 2018 after Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., objected to his nomination over his record on race.

Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, pointed to work Farr did on the 1990 campaign of Senator Jesse Helms, which sent out postcards with information about voter fraud that were criticized as an effort to intimidate African-American voters.

Lydon has been the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina since 2018, when the Senate unanimously confirmed her to the position. Before taking the position, Lydon ran her own practice in Columbia, S.C., and worked as a federal prosecutor. She has also spent time at other firms in South Carolina and worked for a year as the chief of the South Carolina State Grand Jury.

She was a top prosecutor on a high-profile FBI investigation that led to convictions or guilty pleas from 27 state lawmakers and lobbyists in the 1990s.

“I’m very pleased that Sherri Lydon has been confirmed in a bipartisan vote to serve as a federal district court judge for South Carolina,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. “She is one of our state’s most talented lawyers and has served us well as U.S. attorney for South Carolina. She enjoys broad support from the South Carolina legal community. I know she will be fair to all who come before her in court and will make our state proud in the years to come.”

With the votes on Myers and Lydon Thursday afternoon, the Senate ran up its tally of judges confirmed this week to eight, including Sarah Pitlyk, a Missouri court pick who faced opposition from Democrats and Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, over her work on anti-abortion litigation.

Among the other confirmations were two long-pending nominees to federal courts in New York – U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York nominee John Sinatra and U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York nominee Eric Komitee.

Sinatra was first nominated in May 2018, but has languished despite bipartisan support. He was confirmed 75-18 on Wednesday, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer voting for him while his fellow New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand voted no.

Sinatra has been a partner at the Buffalo, N.Y., firm Hodgson Russ since 2008. He worked down the shore of Lake Erie at the Cleveland, Ohio office of Jones Day from 1998 to 2007, spending the intervening year as senior counsel at the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

Komitee, who was confirmed 86-4 on Tuesday, most recently served as general counsel at the hedge fund Viking Global Investors, but left the position in June 2018. Before that he worked as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn and spent time in private practice in New York City, including Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

The Senate on Wednesday also confirmed former Ohio State Solicitor Douglas Cole to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio with a 64-29 vote. Cole worked as the state’s solicitor general from 2003 to 2006, later taking a job at the Columbus, Ohio firm Jones Day. He is now a partner at the Columbus firm Organ Cole.

Like other Trump nominees who served as top appellate attorneys for red states, Cole faced opposition from some Democrats over positions he took in court on behalf of the state, most prominently his defense of an Ohio law that required women to meet with a doctor at least one day before having an abortion.

Austin Huffaker, who on Wednesday was confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama 89-4, has spent his entire legal career at the Montgomery, Ala., firm Rushton, Stakely, Johnston & Garrett. He has also worked as a commissioner at the Alabama Securities Commission since 2016.

David Barlow, up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, also received significant bipartisan support on Wednesday, as he was confirmed 88-4. He has worked at the Salt Lake City firm Dorsey & Whitney since 2018 and also worked as a federal prosecutor in the state from 2011 to 2014.

Barlow also spent time at the firm Sidley Austin in both its Washington, D.C., and Chicago offices, as the vice president of compliance for Walmart, and as chief counsel for Utah Senator Mike Lee.

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