A Liberal Shift in the Fourth Circuit?

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Explore:  Judicial Appointments

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has long held the distinction as one of the most - if not the most - conservative of the federal courts of appeals. It has been described variously as ‘‘the boldest conservative court in the nation,’’ the ‘‘shrewdest, most aggressively conservative federal appeals court in the nation,’’ and ‘‘not only conservative but also bold and muscular in its conservatism.’’ As for some of its high-profile decisions, they have been charged with ‘‘not only bespeaking a conservative philosophy of law but also serving a conservative political agenda.’’ Judge Wilkinson, the longest-tenured judge on the court, recently acknowledged : "Commentators routinely call ours a conservative court, and it is often not meant as a compliment.’’

But President Obama, a Democrat, has now appointed six judges to the 15-member court since he took office in 2009, causing many to question whether his appointees are steering the court away from its historical conservatism to a moderate center. Some say yes while others go so far as to describe the court as ‘‘one of the most liberal." In particular, pointing to recent rulings in the realm of criminal law and procedure, constitutional limits on the power of the federal government, and separation of church and state, some observers conclude that a sea change is impending, if not already upon us.

Originally published in The United States Law Week on February 4th, 2014.

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