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Senators from Virginia recommend three candidates to fill federal appeals court vacancy
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Senators from Virginia recommend three candidates to fill federal appeals court vacancy

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Justice, law and legal concept. Judge gavel and law books.

Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., are recommending three candidates to the White House to fill the vacancy at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that will be created when Judge Barbara M. Keenan assumes senior status in August.

In a letter Monday the senators recommended U.S. District Court judges Arenda Wright Allen and M. Hannah Lauck and Virginia Solicitor General Toby J. Heytens. The recommendations were based on their records, the assessments of an independent panel of attorneys and feedback from bar associations in Virginia, said the senators’ offices.

“They’re all extremely well qualified and have deep experience in the federal court system,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. With two women, one of whom is Black, the group is also diverse, a priority of the White House, Tobias said.

The 15-judge, Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is one of 13 federal appeals courts in the country. Since the U.S. Supreme Court takes up few cases, it is essentially the court of last resort for the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Allen, a federal judge in Norfolk since 2011, served in the Federal Public Defender Office for the Eastern District of Virginia from 2005 to 2011 and in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in both the eastern and the western districts of the state from 1990 to 2005, according to the senators’ offices. Tobias said that Allen, who is Black, has handled some high-profile cases that include overturning Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in 2014.

Lauck has been a U.S. District Court judge in Richmond since 2014 and prior to that a federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District. She was the first woman to be appointed to either position in Richmond. She was an assistant U.S. attorney from 1994 to 2005. Tobias said that Lauck clerked for former U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer.

Heytens, the solicitor general of Virginia since 2018, represents the state in state and federal courts and has done so in three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he was a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, from 2010 to 2018. He also served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A joint statement from Warner and Kaine’s offices said: “Ultimately, we believe each of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench.”

President Biden will nominate one individual for the position, which is subject to confirmation by the full Senate.

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