Bench Memos

Who Is Pamela Harris?

A bit over a month ago, President Obama nominated arch-liberal Pamela Harris to the last remaining vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, traditionally one of the nation’s least radical appeals courts.

If Harris’s nomination is successful, Democrat-appointed judges on that court will outnumber Republican-appointed judges by a ratio of 2–1. Harris would be the sixth judge Obama has appointed to the Fourth Circuit, and Bill Clinton appointed five judges. (I count Judge Roger Gregory as a Clinton appointee because President Bush re-nominated him as a gesture of good faith after the Senate failed to act on his nomination at the end of the Clinton presidency.) George W. Bush, by contrast, succeeded in only three appointments. In short, one could say that the Fourth Circuit is in danger of turning into the Richmond branch of the Ninth Circuit.

Ms. Harris’s nomination was greeted with cheers in some liberal quarters for the very reasons that make her a bad candidate. First of all, she is a veteran of the legal Left, having worked for President Obama in the Office of Legal Policy, which describes itself as “serv[ing] as the primary policy advisor” to Attorney General Holder. Her longstanding relationship with the American Constitution Society (of which she was a board member) confirms that she is precommitted to imposing her left-wing political preferences from the federal bench. All of this inspired David Fontana to write for The New Republic that Harris would be “an eloquent and inspiring champion of liberal jurisprudence.”

There is no reason to doubt him on that point, and over the next few days Jonathan Keim and I will be writing a series of posts explaining why U.S. senators should be deeply skeptical of her ability to put the law ahead of her political views.


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