The U.S. Senate on Monday voted 50-43 to confirm Pamela A. Harris to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews federal district court decisions in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Harris, who lives in Potomac, will succeed Judge André M. Davis, who took senior status in February.
President Barack Obama’s selection of Harris drew strong opposition from Republican senators who said she interprets the federal Constitution expansively to pursue a liberal social agenda. Harris countered during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she would respect Supreme Court precedent in her decisions on the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit.
Harris’ margin of Senate victory was the tightest for any of Obama’s seven appointees to the 4th Circuit, four of whom won confirmation with no nay votes. Davis had received the most “nay” votes, 16, prior to Harris.
Court watchers have said Harris’ confirmation could solidify the 4th Circuit’s shift under Obama from one of the most conservative U.S. appellate courts to one of the most liberal.
During Senate floor debate on Harris’ confirmation Monday, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., praised her as “an extraordinarily talented person” during Senate floor debate Monday before the confirmation vote.
“She is well versed in the responsibilities of an appellate court,” Cardin added. “She gets it. She understands what the role of a judge is.”
Harris, a visiting Georgetown University Law Center professor, specialized in appellate and Supreme Court litigation at O’Melveny & Myers LLP in Washington from 1999 to 2009. From 2007 to 2009 she also co-directed Harvard Law School’s Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Clinic and was a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
In 2009, she was named executive director of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute but left in 2010 to become principal deputy assistant attorney general at the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy. She returned to Georgetown in 2012, according to a White House biography.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley voiced the GOP’s strong opposition to Harris this month when he said she has “consistently and aggressively advocated for very far out constitutional theories.”
Grassley, of Iowa, quoted Harris as having called the U.S. Constitution “a profoundly progressive document …whose meaning may change over time.”
Harris has “a judicial philosophy unmoored by the constitutional text,” said Grassley, vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a party line vote of 10-8, the Democratic-led committee July 17 recommended that the full Senate confirm Harris to the 4th Circuit.