By Reginald Greene
Special to the Times
A number of black legal organizations are frustrated by the opposition to President Barack Obama’s plans to fill the vacant seat of the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court as well as openings on federal district and appellate courts.
Earlier this month, Obama offered the name of U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon of Birmingham to fill a vacant seat on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Alabama’s two Republican Senators, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, immediately issued statements saying they would oppose Kallon’s nomination.
That was an abrupt about face to their overwhelming support and vote for his confirmation in 2009.
“This is so political,” said Alabama Democratic congresswoman Terri Sewell, who was the keynote speaker Saturday at a symposium in Birmingham on Judicial Diversity.
The event, held at the law firm of Baker Donelson, was sponsored by The Magic City Bar Association, The Alabama Bar Association, The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and The National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest association of predominantly African American lawyers.
“We in this room must expose the hypocrisy of such opposition,” Sewell argued. “Seven years ago, Senator Sessions enthusiastically led Judge Kallon’s confirmation hearings…citing his outstanding qualifications.
“So I ask Senator Sessions now,” she queried, “seven years hence, what has changed?”
Sewell’s impassioned address was followed by a panel discussion which included retired Federal District Judge U.W. Clemon; Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge John England; Benjamin Crump, President of the National Bar Association, Bernard Simelton, President of the Alabama NAACP and Bishop Calvin Woods, President of the Birmingham Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Crump, known for representing families of fatal shooting victims such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, said it’s not just Kallon’s nomination that’s being held up by Senate Republicans.
Crump named a number of prominent jurists — “all of them black, most are Ivy League educated with exceptional credentials, and yet they can’t even get a hearing,” he said.
The seat on the 11th Circuit that Judge Kallon was nominated for has been vacant for almost three years. But if confirmed, he would make history by becoming the first African American from the state of Alabama to serve on the appellate court.
Toward the end of the meeting the black law groups vowed to apply more pressure on members of the Senate, particularly Sessions and Shelby. They urged members to organize petitions, use social media, make phone calls and to even show in person at campaign stops to get their point across.
“I’m on record as saying the selection of federal judges should not be a partisan issue,” Sewell said. “We all benefit when diverse candidates are considered based on their qualifications, ability and character, not political ideology.”