City judge nominated for court of appeals

U.S. district's Davis gets a second shot at 4th Circuit

April 03, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

President Barack Obama nominated Baltimore U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis on Thursday to fill a long-vacant seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, calling his judicial record one of "integrity and fairness."

It is Davis' second shot at the seat, left empty since the 2000 death of Francis D. Murnaghan Jr. That fall, President Bill Clinton nominated Davis to the Richmond, Va.-based court, but the Republican-controlled Senate never confirmed him, and the nomination expired shortly thereafter. By law, the Senate must confirm such presidential nominations.

"So here I am again," a good-humored Davis, 60, said Thursday.

Born in Baltimore to working-class parents, Davis grew up on the city's east side. He won a scholarship to Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and later earned a history degree from the University of Pennsylvania. There, a law course highlighting civil rights cases, such as 1954's Brown v. Board of Education, set his path.

"That course was an absolute epiphany to me," Davis said. "This is what the law is all about, the ability of people to vindicate their rights. From that point on, I abandoned all but wanting to be a lawyer."

He attended the University of Maryland School of Law alongside Elijah D. Cummings, now a Maryland congressman who remembers Davis as the kind of guy who gets all As without having to do much work.

"He was just brilliant, he was a curve buster," Cummings said.

After graduating, Davis clerked for Murnaghan for a year, then worked as a federal and private-practice attorney. He cut his teeth as a judge on Baltimore City District Court's low-profile cases before moving to the big jury trials of Circuit Court.

Then, in 1995, Clinton nominated him to Maryland's U.S. District Court, which the Senate confirmed unanimously, said Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who recommended Davis to Obama and praised the nomination yesterday in a statement, as did Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

The 4th Circuit, which oversees appeals from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North and South Carolina, has a reputation of conservatism and cordiality, with judges descending from the bench after every argument to shake attorneys' hands. Four of its 15 seats are vacant, and Republican nominees hold a 6-5 edge. If Davis is confirmed, he will balance the court. More appointees could swing it to the left.

Davis said the appeals court has been "grading [his] papers for 13 years" and the As don't come as easily as they used to. He acknowledges his share of "Cs and a few Fs." In fact, the court overturned part of a Davis opinion Thursday.

But he doesn't take it personally.

"We're all human, and as a human trial judge, I know that from time to time I'm almost certain to make a mistake," he said. "The idea of appellate review is as old as the country, as old as the courts, and it's a very critical component."

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