Press Release

January 14, 2014
Statement On Judge Robert Wilkins To Be United States Circuit Judge For The District Of Columbia Circuit

   Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise in strong support of the nomination of Judge Robert L. Wilkins to be a circuit judge for the U.S. 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. He was filibustered in November, and I am pleased we are reconsidering his nomination today.

   Judge Wilkins currently serves as a Federal District Judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. So he is a district court judge today, confirmed by the Senate for a lifetime appointment, and now has been nominated by President Obama to fill the circuit court, which is the court above the judicial court for the District of Columbia.

   I am happy we are going to get a chance to vote on the merits of this 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, specializing in white-collar defense, intellectual property, and complex civil litigation before taking the bench as a district court judge.

   Besides Judge Wilkins’ professional accomplishments as an attorney, he has 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 on Judge Wilkins and his family. Let me give some of the circumstances of what Judge Wilkins went through.

   In 1992 Judge Wilkins attended his grandfather’s funeral in Chicago and then began an all-night trip home with three of his family members. He 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 uncover any contraband.

   Judge Wilkins later wrote:

   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 searched on I-95 were Black, Blacks made up only a minority of the drivers traveling on the highway.

   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 recording the race of the motorist involved, the justification of 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.

   This was a landmark case, and the settlement provided the wherewithal for many States to change their practices on traffic stops and how traffic stops would be conducted. It was an important action Judge Wilkins took as a private citizen in order to advance the rights of all people. I applaud him for that courage, not only to stand for what was right for him but also to be active in changing those practices around the country.

   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 death of Trayvon Martin, 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 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 is scheduled to open in 2015 between the National Museum of American History and the Washington Monument on the National Mall.

   I mention that because Judge Wilkins has been involved in our community. He is not only an outstanding jurist, he is a person who has stood for basic rights. He has taken action where things were wronged against him, and he has been very active in our community.

   He also 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.

   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 because many of these cases are brought to the DC Circuit.

   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 environment, labor, and financial regulations.

   Nationally, only about 15 percent of the appeals are administrative in nature–15 percent. That is the national number. 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.

   Let me 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.

   I mention that because there have been some here who say “the workload of the court.” The workload of the court requires us to fill this vacancy.

   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.” He should know. Justice Roberts came from that circuit court.

   We have a person who is eminently qualified for this position, and that is Judge Wilkins. We have a need to fill this vacancy. The Senate should carry out its responsibility, and we are going to have that chance very shortly.

   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 am pleased that we have moved forward to get an up-or-down vote on this nomination. I ask the Senate and my colleagues to support confirmation of this eminently qualified judge.