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New 4th Circuit vacancy opens, as WV-based judge takes senior status

3 minute read


  • Circuit Judge King has served since 1998 on the appeals bench
  • King wrote ruling in 2017 that upheld Maryland ban on assault weapons
  • Vacancy is second for Biden on Richmond, Virginia-based court

(Reuters) - The Biden administration was presented with a new vacancy to fill on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, as Circuit Judge Robert King in West Virginia said on Monday he will take senior status on the confirmation of a successor.

King, who has served on the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court since 1998, is part of a Democratic-appointed majority on the bench. There are eight Democratic-appointed judges and seven Republican-appointed judges on the appeals court.

Virginia state solicitor Toby Heytens was President Joe Biden's first nominee to the 4th Circuit. The former law clerk to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was picked to succeed Judge Barbara Keenan, who is taking senior status on Aug. 31.

Heytens won bipartisan support at the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing in July.

So far, Biden has appointed four judges to the federal courts of appeal. Six more federal appeals nominees, including Heytens, are pending review in the Senate. Trump appointed 54 judges to the courts of appeal. Biden's early nominees reveal his effort to boost the gender, racial and professional diversity among judges on the federal courts.

A message seeking comment from King was not immediately returned on Tuesday. The 4th Circuit hears appeals from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

King served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia from 1977 to 1981. He was in private practice at a firm he helped to create, King, Betts & Allen, in Charleston from 1981 to his appointment to the appeals court.

King wrote the 4th Circuit's 10-4 majority opinion in February 2017 that upheld a Maryland state ban on assault rifles.

"Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war," King wrote.

The following month, King and all his colleagues on the 4th Circuit weighed the Trump administration's effort to restrict travel into the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries.

"He's never repudiated what he said about the Muslim ban,” King said during the March 2017 en banc argument.

Trump had promised on the campaign to impose a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Trump later disputed that the restrictions amounted to a ban.

The 4th Circuit voted 9-4 in February 2018 against the Trump administration.

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