JUDGE Francis D. Murnaghan Jr.'s Aug. 31 death made a bad situation worse for the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
The bench has been understaffed for years because Republican senators refuse to approve Democratic nominees to fill vacancies created by retirement or death. Judge Murnaghan's death means a full one-third of the chairs on the 15-member court are now empty.
It's beyond ridiculous.
There are now 10 judges doing the work of 15 -- a judicial nightmare by any standards.
But Republicans like it that way, because the Fourth Circuit, which hears cases from the federal courts in Maryland as well as four other states, can be counted on to hand down some of the most conservative opinions in our nation. They rubber-stamp death penalty cases that present myriad ethical and legal problems. They seemingly slap down any racial discrimination case that doesn't involve a hanging.