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« Stirfry

Federal judgeship maneuvering begins

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)


Published March 15, 2009

Last week's announcement by U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus of Youngstown that he will be stepping down from full-time service in July has opened the succession floodgates. The list of hopefuls will continue to grow, but in the end, the selection will be made by President Barack Obama. The U.S. Senate will hold a confirmation hearing on Obama's nomination, after a review by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If established procedure is followed, the two senators from Ohio will submit a name to the White House. In fact, Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, will hold sway because a Democrat is president. Economus was nominated by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.

And Brown will undoubtedly consider the opinions of a wide array of people — business, political and community leaders —  in the federal court's northern district.

But it would be naive to believe that politics will not come into play, which is why the filling of the vacancy offers so much intrigue. 

In last year's primary election, only one prominent businessman in the Mahoning Valley publicly backed Obama, then a U.S. senator from Illinois. His name: Herb Washington, owner of many McDonald's franchises and former owner of the Mahoning Valley SteelHounds hockey team.

Washington hosted a fundraiser for Obama at his home and unlike other businessmen, did not hedge his bets. Some prominent business leaders in the region supported then Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NewYork.

Given that appointments to the federal bench are for life, presidents take their nominating responsibilities seriously. The Obama White House can be expected to look very closely at the recommendations made. It would naive to believe that in the case of the Economus position, administration officials would not seek Washington's input.

Thus the question: All things being equal, would a black applicant have an advantage over a white given that the president of the United States and his chief supporter in the Valley are both black?

There certainly wouldn't be anything wrong in race being a factor — all things being equal, of course.


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