N.C. judges get easy hearing in Senate

Two tapped for appeals court

Washington CorrespondentDecember 17, 2009 

— North Carolina Judges James Wynn of Raleigh and Albert Diaz of Charlotte, on their path to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, breezed through a brief confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, facing just a handful of questions from three senators.

The men pledged to follow rather than create law and agreed that diversity on the bench signals to Americans that they can trust that justice will be applied with fairness.

Should the Senate confirm Diaz, he would be the first Latino judge on the 4th Circuit. Wynn is African-American.

"We're not simply dealing with an academic exercise, but we're affecting people's lives in each and every case," Diaz said. He added later: "Empathy comes ... if citizens believe they've gotten a fair shake."

Asked about his judicial philosophy, Wynn said: "The role of the judge is to follow the law, not make the law."

The 15-member 4th Circuit Court handles appeals from five states. North Carolina has historically been underrepresented on the court.

Diaz of Charlotte now sits as a special business judge in state Superior Court.

Wynn was first tapped by President Bill Clinton, but U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms blocked the nomination as part of a yearslong partisan tiff.

Wynn and Diaz were nominated Nov. 4 by President Barack Obama, supported by Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, and then whisked in six weeks to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

"This is a quick turnaround for any Circuit Court nominees, and an especially quick turnaround for the 4th Circuit," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican. He pointed out that Robert Conrad, a Bush nominee, waited more than 500 days and never received a hearing.

Despite the partisan rancor dividing the Senate elsewhere on health reform, there was nothing but good will in the hearing room Wednesday.

Burr praised the military backgrounds of both judges. Hagan spoke of spending months pushing to get two North Carolina nominees to the bench.

"These two judges are exactly what we need on the 4th Circuit," she said.

The Judiciary Committee likely won't make its recommendation on Wynn and Diaz before next year. The full Senate then would vote on their confirmation.

bbarrett@mcclatchydc.com or 202-383-0012

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