WASHINGTON - West Virginia attorney Stephanie Thacker has been confirmed to a federal appeals court.
The U.S. Senate voted 91-3 in favor of Thacker to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Monday evening.
The roll call vote came after an executive session held to consider her nomination, with 60 minutes for debate, equally divided.
In March, senators finally agreed to consider Thacker's nomination this month.
Thacker was nominated by President Barack Obama in September to serve as a judge on the Fourth Circuit. She will replace Judge M. Blane Michael, who died earlier this year. Michael had held the position since 1993.
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, speaking on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, called Thacker "uniquely qualified" to carry on Michael's "legacy of independence, humility and intellectual honesty as a federal judge."
"She has the courage to make tough decisions and will not back down from a challenge. She has the superior intellect necessary to analyze the complex legal issues that come before the federal appeals courts. She will look at every case with a fair and open mind and will issue opinions that are guided by our Constitutional principles and always grounded in the law," West Virginia's senior senator said.
"And she will never forget her solemn duty to uphold fairness and justice for everyone, regardless of social status or economic means."
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in November unanimously approved Thacker's nomination to the federal appeals court.
She has since waited several months to be confirmed by the full Senate -- much like fellow West Virginian Gina Groh, whose own nomination was finally confirmed last month.
Groh, a Berkeley circuit judge, was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
On March 15, in a roll call vote, her nomination to the federal district court was confirmed overwhelmingly, like Thacker's, 95-2.
Groh will fill the vacancy left by the 2006 death of Judge Craig Broadwater.
Groh, who was nominated by Obama last May, waited more than five months to be confirmed.
Her nomination was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a unanimous, bipartisan vote in October, but, like many other judicial nominations, including Thacker's, was held up due to party politics.
Some GOP senators were still fuming over Obama's decision in January to make a controversial recess appointment of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to the post of director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The CFPB was created by the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul and is tasked with regulating consumer financial products.
Democrats, including Obama, argued Republicans were "stonewalling" Cordray's nomination.
So, the president went ahead and appointed Cordray. In turn, some Republican senators threatened to hold up Obama's nominations.
However, in the days leading up to Groh's confirmation, senators came to an agreement to work to confirm 14 judicial nominees by May 7.
That means two to three confirmation votes will be held a week while the Senate is in session.
Carl Tobias, the Williams Professor of Law at University of Richmond's law school and a keen observer of the judicial nomination process, said the overwhelming vote in favor of Thacker was not surprising, given that, like Groh, she is well-qualified, non-controversial and had strong support from both of her home state senators, Rockefeller and Joe Manchin.
"What is surprising and troubling is why she had to wait so long for a floor vote," Tobias said.
However, appellate court nominees are more heavily scrutinized because they are deemed more important, he noted.
"They are one level below the U.S. Supreme Court, and are the final word in 99 percent of cases and considered to make more policy than district judges," Tobias said.
As for the Senate's current plan to vote on 14 nominations before May 7, Tobias said the Senate is on track to meet that number.
But what happens after that, no one knows, he said.
"It is unclear what will happen after the agreement expires -- whether the GOP will return to stalling or agree to more floor votes or force the Democrats to move for cloture," Tobias said.