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Pryor urges Bush to nominate black judge to federal bench


U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor urged President Bush on Wednesday to nominate a black judge to fill the federal judgeship in Arkansas left vacant with the death of U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr., the state’s first black federal judge.

Pryor, D-Ark., said in his weekly conference call with reporters that he was not opposed to any of the six people recommended last week to the White House for the post by U.S. Rep. John Boozman. He also said that Boozman, who made the recommendations as the only Republican in the Arkansas delegation, did a good job of coming up with a diverse list.

Boozman recommended five lawyers and a state appeals court judge to replace Howard, who died in April at age 82. Three of the candidates are black; the others are white.

Pryor, who has said in the past that he would like to see a black person succeed Howard, noted Wednesday that the vacancy was in a judicial district that has a large minority population.

“I have a concern about this vacancy,” Pryor said. “I really do think diversity is good on the federal bench. I think when you look at the Eastern District of Arkansas, if you look at the statistics, it is 20.6 percent African-American.”

He noted that among the five district judge positions, Howard’s was the only vacancy.

“If the White House does not nominate an African-American to that position, Arkansas will be the only Southern state that doesn’t have an African-American federal district court judge,” Pryor said.

The senator called Howard “a pioneer,” referring to his background of firsts. Howard was among the earliest black graduates of the University of Arkansas law school in Fayetteville. He served on the state Claims Commission, the state Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals before arriving at the federal bench in 1980. He was the first black person to hold each of those positions in Arkansas.

Once Bush nominates Howard’s successor, that person will go through Senate confirmation hearings. U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., also has said she would like a black person to succeed Howard.

Among the six people recommended by Boozman, Brian S. Miller of Helena-West Helena, Marie-Bernarde Miller of Little Rock and J. Leon Johnson of Little Rock are black. Chuck Banks of Little Rock, Kevin A. Crass of Little Rock and Jeanette A. Robertson of Jonesboro are white.

– Associated Press

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