Press Release

November 19, 2013
Floor Speech On Nomination Of Robert Leon Wilkins To Be United States Circuit Judge For The District Of Columbia Circuit

   The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the Senate will proceed to executive session to consider the nomination of Robert Leon Wilkins to be United States Circuit Judge.

   The assistant legislative clerk read the nomination of Robert Leon Wilkins, of the District of Columbia, to be United States Circuit Judge for the District Of Columbia Circuit.

   The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the time until 5:30 p.m. will be equally divided and controlled in the usual form.

   The Senator from Maryland.

   Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of the nomination of Judge Robert L. Wilkins to be a circuit judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. I was pleased to introduce Judge Wilkins to the Judiciary Committee in September, and the committee favorably reported his nomination in October.

   Judge Wilkins currently serves as Federal District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate for this position in 2010. I urge the Senate to invoke cloture to allow an up-or-down vote on this extremely qualified nominee.

   Judge Wilkins is a native of Muncie, IN. He obtained his B.S. cum laude in chemical engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and his J.D. from Harvard Law School.

   Following graduation, Judge Wilkins clerked for the Honorable Earl B. Gilliam of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. He later served as a staff attorney and as head of Special Litigation for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. He then practiced as a partner with Venable LLP, specializing in white collar defense, intellectual property, and complex civil litigation, before taking the bench as a judge.

   Besides Wilkins’ professional accomplishments as an attorney, he also played a leading role as a plaintiff in a landmark civil rights case in Maryland involving racial profiling. During his tenure with the Public Defender Service and in private practice, Judge Wilkins served as the lead plaintiff in Wilkins, et al. v. State of Maryland, a civil rights lawsuit against the Maryland State Police for a traffic stop they conducted of Judge Wilkins and his family.

   In 1992, Judge Wilkins attended his grandfather’s funeral in Chicago, and then began an all-night road trip home with three family members. Judge Wilkins was due back in Washington, DC that coming morning for a court appearance as a public defender. A Maryland State Police trooper pulled over their car. The police detained the family and deployed a drug-sniffing dog to check the car, after Judge Wilkins declined to consent to a search of the car, stating there was no reasonable suspicion. The family stood in the rain during the search, which did not undercover any contraband.

   It is hard to describe the frustration and pain you feel when people pressure you to be guilty for no good reason, and you know that you are innocent…… [W]e fit the profile to a tee. We were traveling on I-68, early in the morning, in a Virginia rental car. And, my cousin and I, the front seat passengers, were young black males. The only problem was that we were not dangerous, armed drug traffickers. It should not be suspicious to travel on the highway early in the morning in a Virginia rental car. And it should not be suspicious to be black.

   After the traffic stop, Judge Wilkins began reviewing Maryland State Police data, and noticed that while a majority of those drivers searched on 1-95 were black, blacks made up only a minority of drivers traveling there.

   Judge Wilkins filed a civil rights lawsuit, which resulted in two landmark settlements that were the first to require systematic compilation and publication by a police agency of data for all highway drug and weapons searches, including data regarding the race of the motorist involved, the justification for the search and the outcome of the search. The settlements also required the State police to hire an independent consultant, install video cameras in their vehicles, conduct internal investigations of all citizen complaints of racial profiling, and provide the Maryland NAACP with quarterly reports containing detailed information on the number, nature, location, and disposition of racial profiling complaints.

   These settlements inspired a June 1999 executive order by President Clinton, Congressional hearings and legislation that has been enacted in over half of the 50 States.

   It was a landmark case. It pointed out the right way in which we should conduct oversight and the right way to end racial profiling. Judge Wilkins took the leadership and did something that many of us would have had a hard time doing, putting himself forward in order to do what was right.

   As my colleagues know, I have introduced S. 1038, the End Racial Profiling Act–ERPA–which would codify many of the practices now used by the Maryland State Police to root out the use of racial profiling by law enforcement. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on ending the use of racial profiling last year, and I am hopeful that with the broader discussion on racial profiling generated by the tragic Trayvon Martin case that we can come together and move forward on this legislation.

   Judge Wilkins played a key role in the passage of the federal statute establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture Plan for Action Presidential Commission, and he served as the Chairman of the Site and Building Committee of that Presidential Commission. The work of the Presidential Commission led to the passage of Public Law No. 108-184, which authorized the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This museum will be the newest addition to the Smithsonian, and it is scheduled to open in 2015 between the National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument on the National Mall.

   Judge Wilkins continues his pro bono work to this day. He currently serves as the Court liaison to the Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services of the Judicial Conference of the DC Circuit.

   He is committed to public service and equal justice under the law.

   As a U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia since 2011, Judge Wilkins has presided over hundreds of civil and criminal cases, including both jury and bench trials. Judge Wilkins already sits on a Federal bench which hears an unusual number of cases of national importance to the Federal Government, including complex election law, voting rights, environmental, securities, and administrative law cases. Indeed, Judge Wilkins has been nominated for the appellate court that would directly hear appeals from the court on which he currently sits. He understands the responsibilities of the court that he has been nominated to by President Obama.

   The American Bar Association gave Judge Wilkins a rating of unanimously well qualified to serve as a Federal appellate judge, which is the highest possible rating from the nonpartisan peer review.

   The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is also referred to as the Nation’s second-highest court. The Supreme Court only accepts a handful of cases each year, so the DC Circuit often has the last word and proclaims the final law of the land in a range of critical areas of the law. Only 8 of the 11 seats of the court authorized by the Congress are filled, resulting in a higher than 25-percent vacancy rate on this critical court.

   This court handles unusually complex cases in the area of administrative law, including revealing decisions and rulemaking of many Federal agencies in policy areas such as environmental, labor, and financial regulations. Nationally, only about 15 percent of the appeals are administrative in nature. In the DC Circuit, that figure is 43 percent. They have a much larger caseload of complex cases. The court also hears a variety of sensitive terrorism cases involving complicated issues such as enemy combatants and detention policies.

   I have a quote from former Chief Judge Henry Edwards who said:

   [R]eview of large, multiparty, difficult administrative appeals is the staple of judicial work in the DC Circuit. This alone distinguishes the work of the DC Circuit from the work of other circuits. It also explains why it is impossible to compare the work of the DC Circuit with other circuits by simply referring to raw data on case filings.

   Chief Justice Roberts noted that “about two-thirds of the cases before the DC Circuit involved the Federal Government in some civil capacity, while that figure is less than twenty-five percent nationwide.” He also described the “D.C. Circuit’s unique character, as a court with special responsibility to review legal challenges to the conduct of the national government.”

   We have a person who is imminently qualified for this position in Judge Wilkins. We have a need to fill these vacancies. The Senate should carry out its responsibility and conduct an up-or-down vote on Judge Wilkins’ nomination. We are going to have a chance to do that in a few moments.

   Let me remind my colleagues that the Senate unanimously confirmed Judge Wilkins in 2010 for his current position, and he has a distinguished lifelong record of public service.

   I ask the Senate and my colleagues to vote so we can move forward and get an up-or-down vote on this imminently qualified judge, and I hope my colleagues will support his confirmation.