RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina's senators continue to support the nomination of U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle to a federal appellate court, but allegations that the judge violated a conflict-of-interest law have made Democrats more determined to deny him the seat.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, at the request of Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., had pledged in April to bring Boyle's nomination to the Senate for a confirmation vote this month. Recently, though, Boyle was accused of deciding cases in which he had a financial interest. Ethics rules require judges to recuse themselves in such cases.
Frist said he needs to look more closely at the allegations, leaving a vote on Boyle in question.
Democrats have renewed their threats to filibuster Boyle and prominent Senate Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, told Congressional Quarterly on Wednesday that some circuit court nominees "may drop out" to get others through.
"For Judge Boyle, the problem may be more political than legal," said Jonathan Turley, a legal ethics expert and professor of law at George Washington University. "His nomination was obviously troubled from the start, and any further controversy is likely to have a magnified impact at this stage."
Boyle, a former legislative aide to former Sen. Jesse Helms, has worked as a federal judge in North Carolina since President Reagan appointed him in 1984. He was first nominated in 1991 to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., by President George H.W. Bush. President George W. Bush nominated Boyle to the same court 10 years later and renominated him in 2005.
Boyle finally had a hearing last summer in the Senate Judiciary Committee and was voted out of committee on a party-line split. Democrats said they opposed his nomination because of his rulings in civil rights and disability cases and his higher than average turnover rate by higher courts.
Salon.com and the Center for Investigative Reporting reported last week that since May 2001, Boyle has ruled in nine cases involving five corporations in which he holds stock. The companies involved included General Electric Corp. and America Online. In all the cases, Boyle held stock worth less than $15,000, and often substantially less, the report said.
Andy Whiteman of Hartzell & Whiteman in Raleigh, who had a client in one of the cases cited in the report, told The News & Observer of Raleigh that Boyle was not unfair to his client in his handling of the disability case against General Electric.
Doug Kendall, executive director of the judicial ethics watchdog group Community Rights Counsel in Washington, said the accusations should end Boyle's nomination.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, wants the accusations against Boyle examined.
"Whether or not it turns out that Judge Boyle broke federal law or canons of judicial ethics, these types of conflicts of interest have no place on the federal bench," Leahy said in a committee hearing. "Certainly they should be investigated."
Still, many Republicans continue to support Boyle and seem confident of his confirmation.
"Judge Boyle has a fine reputation," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said. "Absent something unexpected, I think he has a good chance of being confirmed."
President Bush also continues to back Boyle, a White House spokeswoman said.