Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin confirmed yesterday that they have recommended Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis, a Baltimore native and 22-year career judge, for an open position on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"I think he'd be a terrific choice, and I conveyed that to the White House," Mikulski said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun. Cardin echoed the sentiment. It's still up to President Barack Obama to make the official nomination, which the U.S. Senate must then confirm. Legal insiders said Davis is undergoing vetting for the job now.
The 4th Circuit - which oversees cases from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North and South Carolina - is the court of last resort for most regional appeals. It is also widely considered the country's most conservative appeals court, with Republican nominees holding a 6-to-5 edge. But four of the 15 judgeships are vacant, giving Obama the opportunity to sway the Richmond, Va.-based court to the left, which could have a broad impact on national policy. The 4th Circuit typically handles war-on-terror cases and those from the many government agencies in the Washington suburbs.
If Obama nominates Davis, it would be his second shot at the job. President Bill Clinton nominated him for the slot in October 2000, after the August death of Baltimore's Francis Murnaghan, who served on the 4th Circuit bench for more than two decades. The nomination allowed little time for a Senate vote before the Bush administration settled in, and Davis was never confirmed.
Davis would make sense as a selection, said Carl Tobias, a Virginia candidate for the 4th Circuit and a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
"Experienced district judges are always a valuable pool from which to nominate," Tobias said in an e-mail. "Elevation is a longstanding tradition."
In an interview yesterday, Davis declined to comment on the 4th Circuit and his chances for it.
Earlier in the day, however, as part of a federal fraud and murder trial, he did talk a bit about the 4th Circuit, particularly an opinion the court handed down in August. It overturned a ruling Davis had made barring certain evidence from entry, and now he was being forced to admit the data.
"It's not often a district judge gets instructions on how to try the case," he said from the bench. "And that's exactly what's happened here."
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Levin, who is now in private practice in Baltimore, blogged about Davis' potential nomination last month and pointed out several of the judge's rulings that have been overturned by the 4th Circuit.
"While Judge Davis is well-respected by the defense bar for his patience and open-minded approach to legal arguments, Assistant United States Attorneys are often frustrated by his rulings in criminal cases arising out of Baltimore City and have not hesitated to appeal," Levin wrote.
In an interview yesterday, Levin explained that some prosecutors believe Davis doesn't trust Baltimore City police officers, who frequently testify in U.S. District Court. Still, Levin said he has a "great deal of respect for Judge Davis."