If you want evidence proving that the judicial confirmation process is in serious need of repair, Exhibit A would be Judge Terrence Boyle of North Carolina. Nearly 15 years ago, Judge Boyle was nominated for a seat on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals by the first President Bush. President George W. Bush has since renominated Judge Boyle three times for the same seat — once in 2001, a second time in 2003 and a third time in 2005. Judge Boyle was finally approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee a year ago, yet he continues to patiently await action by the full Senate.
The hard-core left is opposing the Boyle nomination, despite the fact that the American Bar Association has given him its highest possible rating — “unanimously well-qualified.” During his 22 years on the federal bench, Judge Boyle has compiled an exemplary record as a practitioner of judicial restraint. The people of my state appreciate Judge Boyle’s commitment to applying the law strictly and not imposing his own personal views from the bench.
This judicial approach, of course, is directly at odds with those on the left who want our courts populated with liberal policymakers. Unable to sustain their opposition to the Boyle nomination on the merits, they have now resorted to a shameful tactic: character assassination.
The smear campaign began in earnest last month when the liberalInternetmagazine Salon.com published two articles accusing Judge Boyle of engaging in unethical behavior by participating in cases where he had a supposed financial interest. An examination of these cases, however, shows that any alleged breach by Judge Boyle was inadvertent, minor, and, in a number of instances, totally non-existent. In all of the cases cited by Salon.com, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Judge Boyle in any way benefited financially from his involvement.
The case at the center of the Salon.com attack is Bursell v. General Electric Company, a case involving a workers’ compensation claim against GE. It turns out that Judge Boyle owned 50 shares of GE stock worth approximately $1,500 when the written decision in the Bursell case was released. Salon.com has used this fact to transform Judge Boyle into a caricature of judicial avarice.
It is hard to see how Judge Boyle could have financially benefited from the Bursell decision, particularly since he ruled in favor of many of the plaintiff’s key claims. Judge Boyle granted the plaintiff, an injured GE worker, both his claim for short-term disability benefits and attorneys’ fees. In fact, the lawyer for the plaintiff, a self-described liberal Democrat, has characterized this Salon.com charge as “ludicrous” and says that Judge Boyle’s ownership of the small amount of GE stock did not create “even the appearance of a conflict of interest.” He calls the Salon.com attack “misleading” and “inaccurate.”
Salon.com also rips into Judge Boyle for participating in cases involving Midway Airlines when the airline was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was not listed on a stock exchange. The Salon.com story does not tell you that Judge Boyle was a trustee of a child’s trust, in which he had no direct financial interest, and that this trust, not the judge himself, held only 50 shares of Midway stock valued at less than $25 in total. (Due to the preceding bankruptcy, the Midway stock was worth mere pennies per share.)
Salon.com even criticizes Judge Boyle for owning stock in Quintiles Transnational, a pharmaceutical company, and then participating in a case involving that firm. It turns out that Judge Boyle sold any Quintiles stock he owned in 2000 — before the case, Quintiles v. WebMD, was filed in 2001.
Judge Boyle concedes he has made some mistakes during his more than two decades of public service. It is important to note that, unlike many federal courts, the Eastern District of North Carolina where he sits does not have computer software in place to screen for possible conflicts of interest. Instead, the standard conflicts-of-interest screening is conducted by the clerk’s office of the court only after a case is formally assigned to a judge. Judge Boyle and his staff also screen each case that comes before them for conflicts, but, as in any human endeavor, mistakes are sometimes inadvertently made.
And let’s have some perspective here: During his tenure on the federal bench, Judge Boyle has handled some 16,000 cases. To assault his integrity because of a handful of unintentional and trivial errors is simply unfair.
After waiting a decade and a half, Judge Boyle deserves an up-or-down vote on his nomination. I am confident that the American people will reject this misguided attempt to tarnish his reputation and will wholeheartedly support his nomination.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole is a Republican from North Carolina.