The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, long considered one of the nation’s most conservative appellate courts, is shifting to a moderate direction with the balance up for grabs. A growing list of vacancies — now five — has left the court evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees.
With an election year approaching, experts predict the court will tilt decisively to the left if Democrats keep control of Congress and reclaim the White House.
“There is a very good chance that this court will be solidly Democratic for many, many years,” said Arthur D. Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor. He said the current 5-5 split — which began July 17 when Judge H. Emory Widener Jr., a Republican appointee, took semi-retirement — is “tremendously significant.” . . . .
“The White House has not moved with an urgency that is warranted by the situation,” said Charles J. Cooper, a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, who called the 4th Circuit’s vacancies “an absolute crisis.” He said Senate Democrats also deserve blame for blocking Bush’s earlier nominees.