Graves to 5th? Looks like somebody agrees with me.

Several months ago, I reported the serious possibility that Miss. Supreme Court Justice James Graves of Jackson could be a real contender for an Obama appointment to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Here’s an interesting post today from Philip Thomas of Miss. Litigation Review & Commentary. He agrees and adds a little more perspective about why Republican Gov. Haley Barbour may like the idea, too.

The Obama Administration has shown no expertise with getting its appointments through the Senate, so it’s anybody guess how this could fare. But you gotta think that if the influential Barbour wants it, he could make GOP votes happen, which would be different lately. That certainly would play in Graves’ favor.

Take a look:

Justice James Graves Remains 5th Circuit Front-Runner

It has been five months since 5th Circuit Judge Rhesa Barksdale announced that he was taking senior status, giving President Obama a slot to fill on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. After initial speculation that the position would be filled by someone from Texas or Louisiana, word leaked that the President would fill the position with an African-American Mississippian.

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James Graves immediately emerged as the favorite for the nomination, as discussed in this post. Other names mentioned for the nomination at one time or another in legal circles include:

Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd,
Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Denise Owens,
former Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Robert Gibbs,
Jackson attorney Doug Minor,
Assistant U.S. Attorney Felicia Adams,
Circuit Court Judge Margaret Carey-McRae,
Jackson attorney Walter Johnson, and
Jackson attorney and presumptive District Court nominee Carlton Reeves.

I believe that the White House has interviewed at least several people on this list.

Speculation continues to center on Justice Graves as the front-runner for the nomination. He is the only person on the list with appellate court experience, in addition to previously serving as a trial judge in Hinds County Circuit Court. Justice Graves is rumored to have the support of individual(s) with close ties to the White House Counsel’s Office.

Although Justice Graves may not have universal support in conservative circles, he is rumored to have the tacit approval of Governor Haley Barbour, who would like to appoint an African-American to the Mississippi Supreme Court to strengthen his 2012 presidential bid. Governor Barbour is effectively running for President now, which should be kept in mind when viewing his political moves.

One thing the Governor needs to do before the official campaign starts is to repair his glaring deficiency in appointing minorities to judge positions, as discussed here and here. Since criticism of Barbour ‘s minority appointment record became public last year he quietly appointed several African-American judges, including appointing Macolm Harrison to fill the seat of Bobby DeLaughter. If Justice Graves is confirmed for the 5th Circuit, Governor Barbour will get to name his replacement on the Mississippi Supreme Court. Appointing an African-American to the Supreme Court would go a long way to blunt the criticism of Barbour’s record on minority appointments.

One thing that appears certain is that the White House better get moving if it intends to fill Judge Barksdale’s seat. There is less than two years until the Iowa caucuses. But the 2012 presidential race will kick off a year before that—meaning that we are less than a year from formal announcements from Republican presidential candidates. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Presidential election campaigning less than a year away?

Once the presidential election cycle begins confirmation of judicial nominees in the Senate takes a back-seat to campaigning and political gamesmanship. At some point, the Republicans will stall votes on all nominees in hopes of regaining the White House. Look for that point to be at least a year before the election in 2012.

This means that the clock is ticking for President Obama to fill federal court vacancies. And with Supreme Court Justices Stephens and Ginsberg expected to step down this year or next year at the latest, the White House will focus on filling those vacancies.

President Obama needs to nominate someone for the 5th Circuit soon and press for a Senate vote this year. Failure to do so could result in a lost opportunity to add diversity to the Court and would be a black-eye for the Obama administration. It has been known for close to a year that Judge Barksdale would be taking senior status and he made his formal announcement in September. It’s inexcusable that it has taken the White House this long to name a replacement–and we’re still waiting.