There have been six vacancies on the 11th Circuit since President Obama took office in January 2009. He has not nominated a single black man or woman to fill them. He has nominated instead one Latino man and four white women. The Senate has confirmed two of these nominees—Adalberto Jordan and Beverly Martin, both of whom were Clinton district court appointees. As set forth below, there is currently a vacancy, for an "Alabama" spot on the 11th Circuit, that is so new the White House has not yet named a nominee for it.
By contrast, four of the 15 judges currently on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are black (two of whom were appointed to their post by President Obama, the other two by President George W. Bush). The territory of the 4th Circuit comprises a slightly smaller percentage of blacks—23 percent—than does the 11th Circuit. Even the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, still by far the most conservative in the nation, has two black federal appeals judges—one appointed by President Obama, the other by Bill Clinton.
The black population of Alabama in 1970, the first census year following the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was 26.2 percent. Today, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, it is 26.5 percent. Yet there has never been a black woman on any federal court in Alabama. There have been only three black federal judges in the state's history—one of whom, Myron Thompson, now sits in senior status. Two of Alabama's 18 district court seats are now vacant—both of them have been empty since this past August.
There is only one Democratic member of Alabama's Congressional delegation— Representative Terri Sewell, a graduate of Harvard Law School—representing Birmingham. She's coordinating applicants for those positions (and would herself be a sensible nominee). But no matter whom her committee ultimately recommends, and no matter whom the president nominates, they will have to run the gauntlet of Alabama's two GOP senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, both of whom have filibustered Obama's judicial nominees after denouncing such filibusters during the Bush Administration.
In 2009, President Obama nominated Abdul Kallon, a black man, to a federal district spot in Alabama. Kallon was quickly confirmed on a voice vote in the Senate and would make an excellent appellate judge. The president has not had an opportunity to nominate a black candidate from Alabama to the 11th Circuit. But he'll now have his chance. Two weeks ago, 11th Circuit Judge Joel Dubina, an appointee of George H.W. Bush, announced that he was taking senior status—another opportunity to recast the racial makeup of the federal appeals court.
The black population of Florida in 1970, the first census year following the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was 15.3 percent. Today, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, it is 16.6 percent. Today, only three of the state's 37 federal trial judges are black women. The first, Marcia Cooke, arrived on the bench just nine years ago, a nominee of George W. Bush. The second, Mary Scriven, arrived in 2008, another Bush nominee. The third, Charlene Honeywell, was nominated by President Obama during his first term.