Chief Judge Karen Williamson of the Fourth Circuit announced last week that she will retire early on disability due to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Appointed by George H. W. Bush, Judge Williamson has been on the Court of Appeals for 17 years.
There are now five openings on the Fourth Circuit. Judge Andre M. Davis of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland has been nominated, and has gotten through the Senate Committee; no vote has been held by the full Senate, which of course is focusing on Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. But the Fourth Circuit has had several vacancies for some years, all through the George W. Bush years. If President Obama manages to fill all of the open seats, the much-vaunted conservative bastion of the federal system may drift to the center. The extent to which this will help employment discrimination plaintiffs will depend in part on the Supreme Court, which does not seem to be heading toward the center anytime soon, barring an unexpected vacancy in the conservative majority. Still, with the Fourth Circuit up to full strength, perhaps there will be more attention paid to appeals that may now be routinely disposed of per curium.