- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2006

RICHMOND — The chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has announced he will step down July 1.

Judge William W. Wilkins will move to “senior status,” a form of semi-retirement that will leave his seat vacant but allow him to continue hearing cases.

“I’ve just reached the point that it’s time to move on,” he said yesterday.

Judge Karen J. Williams is in line to become the next chief judge of the Richmond-based 4th Circuit, which hears federal appeals from Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas and is one of the most conservative federal appeals courts in the country.

Judge Wilkins, 64, said he sent a letter Thursday to President Bush.

Senior status will allow Judge Wilkins to spend more time on judicial duties and less time on administrative tasks, he said.

President Reagan appointed Judge Wilkins to the U.S. District Court in South Carolina in 1981, making him the first federal judge in the country appointed by the newly elected president. He was appointed to the 4th Circuit in 1986 and became chief judge in 2003.

Judge Wilkins, a native of Greenville, S.C., received his law degree from the University of South Carolina. He served as the first chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and chairman of the Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

There are already three vacancies in the 4th Circuit, one of which was created in May when Judge J. Michael Luttig resigned to accept a job with aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. He had been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee. The other seats have been vacant for years. Judge James Dickson Phillips Jr. took senior status in 1994 and Francis D. Murnaghan Jr. died in 2000.

Judge H. Emory Widener has said he also plans to take senior status at an undetermined point, which would create a fifth vacancy in the 15-member court.

Mr. Bush has nominated Terrence Boyle of North Carolina for Judge Phillips’ seat and William James Haynes II of Virginia for Judge Widener’s prospective vacancy. The nominees have generated intense opposition from Democrats in the Senate, which must confirm judicial nominations.

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