Jamaica-born professor confirmed as US District Court Judge

Richard E. Myers

Last Thursday, the US chamber voted 68-21 to confirm Jamaican-born Richard E. Myers, a former journalist turned attorney and law professor, to the US District Court vacancy in eastern North Carolina in a bipartisan vote.

This is the end of the nation’s longest federal court vacancy after nearly 14 years of foot-dragging and volatile politics of past years. Many nominees came and went across three presidential administrations, one even came up several times.

The seat has been vacant since the end of 2005 when Judge Malcolm Howard moved to semi-retirement status. The next most extended current vacancy that followed in the federal courts began in 2013, according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts. Myers’ path from President Donald Trump’s nomination to confirmation, however, took less than four months.

Myers was born in Jamaica and grew up in North Carolina. He worked at the Wilmington Morning Star in the early 1990s and earned his law degree from the University of North Carolina’s School of Law in Chapel Hill and has been a professor there. He previously clerked at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He was a federal prosecutor in both California and later North Carolina.

While in private practice in California, Myers also was on the legal team defending Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwan-born scientist once charged with mishandling nuclear weapons secrets. Lee was released after the Government dropped all but one charge.

Republican Sen Richard Burr said on the Senate floor in support of confirmation, “Professor Myers embodies a work ethic and diligence that we deserve in all of our judges.” Myers also had the backing of North Carolina’s other Republican in the chamber, US Senator Thom Tillis.

“From the newsroom to the courtroom, to the classroom, Professor Myers has shown his commitment to the principles of truth, justice, and of wisdom,” Tillis said. “I cannot imagine a more solid foundation upon which to place the responsibility of a District Court judgeship” than that of Myers, he added.

The confirmation of Myers, which is a life appointment, followed a confirmation process defined by delays and tumult.

Previously, Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr had been nominated to the eastern North Carolina post four times — twice by President George W. Bush and twice by Trump. Civil rights groups had heavily criticized Farr while a Trump nominee for his work defending state voting and redistricting laws that judges had declared discriminated against black voters, as well as for his role as a 1990 campaign lawyer for then-Senator Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican.

Efforts to confirm Farr, who also was backed by Tillis and Burr, derailed in late 2018 when two Republicans outside North Carolina announced their opposition. One of them, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott — the chamber’s only black Republican — announced his opposition after he said he had read a US Justice Department memo examining postcards sent to black voters before the 1990 election.

But Democrats saw their favored nominees blocked in the Senate, too. President Barack Obama picked former state Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson and federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker, both of them black women. The judgeship covers more than 40 eastern counties from Raleigh to the coast, several of which have large black populations.

Burr specifically stopped Timmons-Goodson’s nomination from going forward in 2016, calling it a “transparent attempt to turn the eastern district vacancy into an election season stunt.”