By NEMS Daily Journal
In these intensely partisan political times, it’s uplifting to see an effort that not only is bipartisan but that produces an historic outcome.
By a voice vote of the U.S. Senate on Monday, Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice James Graves was confirmed to a seat on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. That’s the New Orleans-based court that hears appeals on federal cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Graves becomes the first African-American judge from Mississippi on the 5th Circuit bench, which is the historic part. The bipartisan element is that Graves was nominated last year by President Obama and his nomination was shepherded through the Senate by Republican Mississippi Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran.
It’s not unusual for senators to support nominees for federal judgeships or other positions requiring Senate confirmation from their home state when they’re nominated by a president of the opposite party. But in this case, Wicker and Cochran went beyond customary courtesy to strong advocacy on Graves’ behalf.
As is so often the case in Washington, Graves’ nomination was in danger of falling victim to circumstances having nothing to do with his qualifications and suitability for service.
The president nominated him in June and the Senate Judiciary Committee in the fall recommended his confirmation by the full Senate, but the Senate failed to act before the 111th Congress adjourned. At that point, the future of Graves’ nomination was in doubt.
When the new Congress convened, Obama resubmitted Graves’ nomination and Mississippi’s senators pressed hard for Judiciary Committee and full Senate action. Wicker in particular was active in lobbying Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and other colleagues to avoid further delay on Graves’ confirmation, and the vote finally came Monday.
Wicker has described Graves as possessing a “rich, diverse and distinguished background of public service” and as a “capable and diligent jurist” who had achieved widespread support in his home state. Cochran had also had strong public words of support.
A Clinton native, Graves graduated from Millsaps College and Syracuse University Law School and worked in non-profit, government and private law practice before becoming a Hinds County Circuit judge. He was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2001 by Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to an unexpired term and won election to a full term in 2004.
Graves merited Senate confirmation on his own merits, but Wicker and Cochran deserve credit for persistence in seeing that a deserving nominee was approved for a highly important judicial post – regardless of the nomination’s political origins.