- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated a federal judge from Maryland and another from New York to serve on U.S. appeals courts, moving to change the political balance of both courts.

The Maryland judge, Andre Davis, would serve on the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals if confirmed by the Senate. His confirmation would give the circuit six Democratic-appointed and six Republican-named judges, leaving three vacancies. The court has handled cases involving terrorism defendants or detainees.

Gerard Lynch would fill the only vacancy on the New York-centered 2nd Circuit, giving the court seven Democratic and six Republican judges. The court often presides over Wall Street-related financial cases.

“Judges Lynch and Davis are two jurists with exceptional records of integrity and fairness,” Obama said in a statement. “They will be voices of reason and evenhandedness on the Second and Fourth Circuits.”

There currently are 15 vacancies in federal appeals courts covering 12 geographically based circuits. The courts often provide the last word on a variety of issues affecting Americans. Their decisions cover, among other matters, civil rights, searches and seizures, age and gender discrimination, religious liberty, capital punishment, abortion, gay rights, corporate wrongdoing, review of federal regulations and terrorism.

In eight years, the Bush administration had the opportunity to tilt the courts to the right. Obama can now make them less conservative.

The 2nd Circuit covers Vermont and Connecticut as well as New York. The 4th has jurisdiction in West Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas as well as Virginia.

Lynch, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, handled several high profile cases

He presided over a sexual harassment and retaliation suit by a vice president of Madison Square Garden against her employer and then-New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas. Lynch allowed the case to go to trial, and a jury returned an $11.7 million verdict for the plaintiff. The suit subsequently was settled.

Lynch was the judge in the trial of recording artist “Lil Kim” and an associate on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury in a case related to a shooting. Both defendants were convicted of conspiracy and all perjury counts. Lynch sentenced Lil’ Kim to a year and a day in prison.

In a major heroin distribution and murder case, he sentenced three defendants to life without parole.

And he was part of a three-judge panel that upheld the Communications Decency Act against a First Amendment challenge. The ruling was affirmed by the Supreme Court.

He has served as a federal and New York prosecutor, chief counsel for the York Commission on Government Integrity and an associate counsel in the Iran-Contra independent counsel’s office.

“Judge Lynch is a class act, a world-class legal mind, and one of the sagest judges of the district court,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “We could not have a better nominee to this critical court.”

Davis has issued several far-reaching opinions on cases involving civil rights and people with disabilities.

In two cases where African-American restaurant patrons claimed they were subjected to hostile treatment, Davis established a framework for evaluating such claims. While the standards were adopted by several federal courts, the 4th Circuit declined to do so. Davis’ presence on the 4th Circuit could strongly influence the appellate court in civil rights cases.

In another ruling, Davis issued one of the first federal court opinions to comprehensively analyze the Americans With Disabilities Act. His analysis was frequently cited by other federal courts looking at the requirements of the law.

He ruled that Baltimore City courthouses were not wheelchair-accessible in violation of the disabilities law and ordered the city and state to create a plan to make the buildings accessible. He ruled in favor of a restaurant patron who claimed he wasn’t provided wheelchair access to a restroom.

Davis once struck down Baltimore’s set-aside program for construction contracts for minority-owned and women-owned business.

Davis has been a judge for 22 years, and this is his second shot at an appellate seat. Clinton nominated him for the 4th Circuit in October 2000, but the Senate didn’t vote before the Bush administration took office.

Named to the federal bench by Clinton in 1995, Davis has served as an appellate attorney in the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department and as a federal prosecutor in Maryland.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said Davis has “extensive judicial experience and a history of civic engagement.” Maryland’s other senator, Democrat Benjamin Cardin, added, “I cannot think of a better choice for this seat.” Cardin is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which will vote on Obama’s choices.

Judicial nominations have become partisan issues in the Senate, because federal judges have life terms and rule on so many politically explosive social issues.

On Wednesday, most Republicans boycotted the hearing for Obama’s first judicial nominee, allowing Democrats to lob softball questions at David Hamilton in his quest for a seat on a Midwest appeals court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will not vote on the nomination for several weeks. But with Republicans complaining of inadequate preparation time, the hearing signaled a rocky beginning to Obama’s attempt to remake the federal judiciary.

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