Speaking with ThinkProgress at the Netroots Nation convention yesterday, U.S. Senate candidate Elaine Marshall (D-NC) harshly rebuked Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) for his use of secret holds on Judges James Wynn and Albert Diaz, who have both been nominated for the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Wynn, Marshall explained, was denied even a committee hearing when nominated for the same position in 1999 by Bill Clinton, due to Republican obstruction and a secret hold from then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC).
When President Obama renominated Wynn, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Burr supported the decision. Although Wynn cleared the Judiciary Committee, a vote on his confirmation has not been scheduled because, despite his public support for Wynn, Burr placed a hold on Wynn’s nomination. When asked for comment by the press, Burr duplicitously said he that he “applauds Sen. Hagan for her ongoing efforts to encourage Majority Leader Reid to schedule their nominations for votes on the Senate floor.”
Marshall noted that Burr’s two-faced approach to Judge Wynn appeared to echo the tactics of Helms, who made a career of race-baiting, fighting Civil Rights laws, and intentionally blocking African American judges like Wynn:
MARSHALL: One of our judges who has passed the Judiciary Committee who cannot get a vote was also held up by Jesse Helms. A talented judge, this is now the second time he’s been nominated by the Fourth Circuit. He’s an African American judge, highly, highly qualified. And Richard Burr has the same hold on him that Jesse Helms had on him. North Carolina has got to put these vestiges behind them. Richard Burr, while he’s said wonderful things about Judge Wynn, presenting him and all that kind of stuff, he’s behind the curtain holding him up. [...]
One of them is Hispanic, one of them is African American. They both have military background. They both have strong judicial careers. They really don’t have valid enemies for reasons that anyone would talk about in the hearing. There are these subtle enemies, these subtle forces, the legacy of Jesse Helms, that are holding them back. So, I’m very unhappy about that.
TP: In terms of the legacy of Jesse Helms, do you think Jesse Helms in other ways is replicating the same type of politics Helms used to hold power for so long?
MARSHALL: Jesse Helms is his mentor and he learned his lessons well, yes.
Indeed, as Marshall contends, Burr ran for Senate in 2004 with Helms’ blessing. “North Carolina needs him in the United States Senate. The country needs him. And the president needs him—and he told me so,” Helms said of Burr when he made his official endorsement.