Madam President, I am pleased the Senate has confirmed the nomination of Albert Diaz of North Carolina to be a U.S. circuit judge for the Fourth Circuit.
Judge Diaz is strongly supported by his home State Senators, Senators Hagan and Burr, and he received the highest possible rating of ``well qualified'' from the American Bar Association's rating committee. The process Senators Hagan and Burr used to recommend these nominations to the President--working in a bipartisan fashion with each other and the White House--is a model for how we can improve the judicial selection and confirmation process going forward.
I chaired the confirmation hearing for Judge Diaz in December 2009, and in January 2010 the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved his nomination by a 19-0 vote.
I am disappointed that it has taken the Senate almost a full year to take final action on this nomination.
I take a special interest in the Fourth Circuit, as it includes my home State of Maryland. When President Bush was in office, in May 2008 I chaired the confirmation hearing for Justice Steven Agee, who served on the Virginia Supreme Court and was confirmed to be a U.S. circuit judge for the Fourth Circuit. Since President Obama has taken office, in April 2009 I chaired the confirmation hearing for Judge Andre Davis of Maryland, a Federal district judge in Baltimore, who was confirmed last year to be a judge on the Fourth Circuit. In October 2009, I chaired the confirmation hearing of Justice Barbara Keenan of Virginia, who had served on the Virginia Supreme Court and was confirmed in March of this year by the Senate. Finally, in December 2009, I chaired the confirmation hearing of James Wynn of North Carolina, who had served as an associate judge of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, and was confirmed by the Senate in August 2010.
I mention these nominations by way of background for my colleagues, because the Fourth Circuit has had one of the highest vacancy rates in the country. When I came to the Senate in 2007, out of the 15 seats authorized by Congress, 5 of the seats of the Fourth Circuit were vacant. That means that one-third of the court's seats were vacant. Our circuit courts of appeals are the final word for most of our civil and criminal litigants, as the Supreme Court only accepts a handful of cases.
We should also be working to increase the diversity of the judges of the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit is one of the most diverse circuits in the Nation, according to the most recent Census estimates. In terms of the Fourth Circuit--which consists of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina--22 percent of the residents are African American. In my home State of Maryland, African Americans constitute 30 percent of the population. By way of comparison, the U.S. population is 12 percent African American.
Ironically, the judges on the Fourth Circuit have not historically been known for their diversity. The first woman to sit on the Fourth Circuit was not appointed until 1992. The first African American to sit on the Fourth Circuit was not appointed until 2001.
In recent years I am pleased that the Fourth Circuit has indeed become more diverse and representative of the population it oversees. The Senate took another important step forward to increase diversity on the Fourth Circuit with the confirmation of Judge James Wynn before our August recess. I am pleased that 4 out of the 15 judges on the Fourth Circuit--about one-quarter of the court--are now African American. And I am also pleased that in 2007, for the first time in history, a woman served as chief judge of the Fourth Circuit. Until a vacancy occurred last year, women made up 3 out of the 15 judges on the Fourth Circuit, or one-fifth of the court. I look forward to further increasing the diversity of the Fourth Circuit in the future.
With the nomination of Judge Diaz, the Senate has another opportunity to increase diversity on the Fourth Circuit. Judge Diaz is the first Latino judge to ever sit on the Fourth Circuit in its history.
Judge Albert Diaz also comes to the Senate with a broad range of both judicial and legal experience in both the civilian and military court systems.
Judge Diaz currently serves as a special superior court judge for complex business cases, one of only three in North Carolina.
Judge Diaz began his legal career in the U.S. Marine Corps legal services support section, where he served as a prosecutor, defense counsel, and ultimately chief review officer. He then moved to the Navy's Office of the Judge Advocate General, JAG, where he served for 4 years as appellate government counsel handling criminal appeals. Upon entering private practice, Judge Diaz remained in the Marine Corps Reserves, serving over the years as a defense lawyer, trial judge, and appellate judge.
Judge Diaz was the first Latino appointed to the North Carolina Superior Court when he was named as a resident superior court judge in
I therefore pleased that the Senate has confirmed Judge Diaz, an outstanding nominee who enjoys bipartisan support from his home State Senators and a unanimous endorsement from the Judiciary Committee. By confirming Judge Diaz, the Senate takes an important step in bringing the vacancy rate down on the Fourth Circuit, and for the first time in many years the confirmed judges on the Fourth Circuit will be almost up to full strength. Finally, we will have a more diverse bench that better represents the population of this circuit.
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