- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

ABINGDON, Va. (AP) — H. Emory Widener Jr., who served 35 years as a judge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, died Sept. 19 at his home in Southwest Virginia. He was 83.

Tom Schrinel, deputy circuit executive for the Richmond court, said yesterday that he had no additional details on Judge Widener’s death.

Judge Widener was the nation’s longest-serving federal appeals court judge until July, when he took senior status, a form of semi-retirement for judges 65 and older.

Born in Abingdon in 1923, Judge Widener served in the Navy from 1944 to 1949, and in the Reserves from 1951 to 1952. He received a bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University in 1953 and worked in private practice in Bristol for more than a decade.

President Nixon appointed him to the federal appeals court in 1972.

During the 1990s, when the court built its reputation as one of the most conservative federal appeals courts, Judge Widener was typically lumped in with the conservative majority, said Arthur Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies federal courts.

“He was not as conservative as some of the other judges on the court,” Mr. Hellman said. “He was closer to middle of the road.”

Among Judge Widener’s rulings was one he wrote in 1994 backing a Hispanic student’s challenge of a scholarship program for blacks only at the University of Maryland. Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Widener said the school had failed to prove its scholarship program could effectively remedy past discrimination against blacks.

“Mere knowledge of historical fact [past discrimination] is not the kind of present effect that can justify a race-exclusive remedy,” Judge Widener wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, let the appeals court ruling stand in 1995.

Bristol lawyer E. Lynn Dougherty said Judge Widener exemplified the very best the public can expect from a judge.

“Emory was one of the most respected jurists in the entire nation,” Mr. Dougherty said.

Retired Judge Charles H. Smith Jr. remembered Judge Widener as a “lawyer’s lawyer and an astute student of the law.”

“When I was a pup … he helped me out,” Mr. Smith said.

But opposing Judge Widener on cases was nerve-racking, Mr. Smith said. Judge Widener always won.

“I was always shaking in my boots when I tried cases against him,” he said.

Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell called Judge Widener “a voice of reason, consistency, and intelligence.”

“Through his service on the bench, and his prior service in the United States Navy, his was a life built on duty and honor,” Mr. McDonnell said.

There are five vacancies in the 4th Circuit, the most of any federal appeals court in the U.S.

The circuit, widely considered the nation’s most conservative, covers Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina. It has handled some of the country’s biggest terrorism cases, including that of September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

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