President Obama’s nomination of S.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Don Beatty to a $200,000-a-year federal judge post last February is going nowhere fast.
And the responsibility for the holdup appears to lie with South Carolina’s two U.S. senators – Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham – whose lack of action on Beatty’s behalf has denied Beatty a chance to get a hearing before the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee.
Last February, Obama nominated Spartanburg attorney Don Coggins and Beatty to prestigious federal judgeships in South Carolina. There are currently two vacancies, created by the moves to semi-retired status of U.S. Judges Joe Anderson and Cameron McGowen Currie.
Both Graham and Scott returned “blue slips” on Coggins to the Senate Judiciary Committee, meaning they OK’d Coggins’ nomination.
Coggins had a hearing before a Judiciary Committee subcommittee, and earlier this month, the Judiciary Committee approved his nomination. Coggins’ nomination is now before the full U.S. Senate for a vote.
But neither Graham nor Scott, both Republicans, has turned in a “blue slip” on Beatty, 64, to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“It seems to me that if they were in favor of Beatty, they would turn in the blue slips,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who tracks judicial issues. “They should know plenty about him because he has been in office a long time.”
Asked about when or if Graham intends to turn in a blue slip on Beatty, Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop replied via email, “I will let you know when there is some movement on the Beatty nomination.”
A Scott spokeswoman explained that Scott has a vetting process for evaluating federal judge candidates, a process that includes “an advisory board made up of nine legal and law enforcement professionals across the state.”
That vetting board approved Coggins, and Scott was quoted by his spokeswoman as saying that South Carolina needs qualified judges, “and Mr. Coggins certainly fits the bill.”
Scott’s statement added, “Our advisory board will continue to vet Justice Donald Beatty to determine his eligibility to be considered for federal district judge in South Carolina. Beatty has publicly mentioned that his current focus was on serving as the state’s Supreme Court chief justice, which he was elected to last month.”
It is difficult to know why Scott’s vetting board would need to spend much time on Beatty who, like Coggins, is from Spartanburg.
Earlier this year, Beatty’s personal and professional life was examined in detail by a Legislative Judicial Merit Selection Commission when he ran unopposed for the Supreme Court’s top job. On May 24, a joint session of the General Assembly unanimously elected Beatty chief justice. He assumes that post on Jan. 1, succeeding current Chief Justice Costa Pleicones.
A former Democratic member of the Legislature, Beatty served as a state circuit judge from 1995 to 2003 and as a Court of Appeals judge from 2003 to 2007, and has been a Supreme Court associate justice since 2007. His record has been scrutinized each time he ran for a judge’s post.
Beatty’s nomination for federal judge is still in play.
“Beatty is still a pending nominee,” a Judiciary Committee aide said Friday.
Beatty has declined to respond to requests for comment.
Tobias, the law professor, said even though Coggins’ nomination has reached the Senate floor, that doesn’t mean the Senate will take it up soon.
Two other people were voted out of the Judiciary Committee with Coggins on July 14, and there are already about 16 judge candidates ahead of them for the full Senate’s consideration, Tobias said.
“Coggins is at the bottom of that list,” Tobias said. With Congress’ August recess looming, the earliest Coggins could get a vote would be after Labor Day, Tobias said. “But my guess is, it’s not going to happen until after the election.”
Tobias said there is often “horse trading” that goes on between members of Congress from one state when it comes to federal judgeships.
In this case, Tobias said he believed that U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Graham and Scott had an understanding that Coggins and Beatty would be kind of a package deal, with Graham and Scott forwarding Coggins and Clyburn pushing Beatty.
Clyburn declined comment.
Tobias said, “Until they (Scott and Graham) return the blue slips, Beatty is not going anywhere.”