Under the Dome

Deborah Ross blasts Sen. Richard Burr for blocking judicial appointments

From left are Republican Sen. Richard Burr and his opponent in the fall election, Democratic U.S. Sen. candidate Deborah Ross.
From left are Republican Sen. Richard Burr and his opponent in the fall election, Democratic U.S. Sen. candidate Deborah Ross. Composite created from staff photos

Democratic U.S. Sen. candidate Deborah Ross on Saturday attacked Republican Sen. Richard Burr for blocking the appointment of federal judges to a North Carolina court as well as to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Burr has blocked the nomination of Patricia Timmons-Goodson, a former state Supreme Court justice, to fill a vacancy on the federal court bench in Eastern North Carolina that has existed since the George W. Bush Administration. President Barack Obama nominated her in April.

And Burr has joined other Republican senators in denying a hearing to appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, whom Obama nominated to the high court.

“When we see Richard Burr refusing to do his constitutional duty and even agree to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, or continuing to block a judge for the Eastern District, it offends us,” Ross told a meeting of the state Bar Association at Charlotte’s Westin hotel.

Public Policy Polling released a survey last week showing Burr narrowly leading Ross, 40 percent to 37 percent with Libertarian Sean Haugh at 5 percent.

“Apparently Deborah Ross’ radical record with the ACLU is proving too difficult for her to explain and she has decided petty attacks are the way to go,” Burr spokesman Jesse Hunt said Saturday. “Sen. Burr has made it clear that the American people deserve to have their voice heard this fall when it comes to our next Supreme Court Justice.”

North Carolina’s Eastern District has the longest-running vacancy in the country. It’s gone unfilled since Jan. 1, 2006 – the day after federal Judge Malcolm Jones Howard semi-retired. That’s four years longer than the next longest federal vacancy.

The district, which spans 44 counties from the capital to the coast, has never had a black judge in the Eastern District, though the population is 27 percent African-American. The NAACP and others have pushed for a black judge. But that process has stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Burr has not submitted a needed response, or so-called “blue slip,” to move a nomination forward.

In 2013, Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker, a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District who would have been the first black judge seated. Burr has never explained why he did not submit May-Parker’s name for consideration.

On April’s nomination of Timmons-Goodson, who is also African-American, Burr criticized Obama for what he described as “making a brazenly political nomination,” adding that he refused to support a new nomination in North Carolina from the president.

In the statement, Burr said he and former Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan had come to an agreement with Obama to fill the vacancy and the president had declined to honor it.

“I remain disappointed that the president broke our agreement,” he said in the release. “I’m even more disappointed that the White House has chosen to double down by making a brazenly political nomination, and without consulting either of North Carolina’s senators.”

Staff writer Anne Blythe of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill