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The Senate gave President Barack Obama a major victory Monday in his efforts to remake the federal courts, confirming a judge who will tip the political balance on the once-conservative appeals court based in Richmond.

The 72-16 vote for U.S. District Judge Andre Davis gives Democratic nominees a 6-5 edge on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has been tough in death penalty cases, backed abortion restrictions and supported President George W. Bush's detainee policies.

Davis, of Baltimore, was the sixth of Obama's court nominees to be confirmed, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Immediately after approving Davis, the Senate voted 88-0 to confirm a seventh Obama nominee — Charlene Edwards Honeywell — for a district court seat in Florida.

Despite the overwhelming support for both nominees, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking committee Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama squared off in a never-ending battle over judges. Each blamed the other's party for years of blocking tactics.

Leahy pointed out that 28 judges were confirmed during Bush's first year. Sessions argued that the average time from nomination to confirmation for Bush's appellate court nominees was 350 days, a far longer wait than for Davis, who was nominated April 2. Sessions opposed his confirmation.

Davis had been caught in judicial politics before. President Bill Clinton nominated him for the 4th Circuit in October 2000, but the Senate didn't vote before Bush took office.

Prior to the Senate votes Monday, there were 21 appellate vacancies and 76 more for district courts. Since the Supreme Court usually hears about 80 cases a year, the appellate courts usually are the last judicial stop in deciding many of the nation's most controversial legal issues.

No appellate court has been more ripe for change than the 4th Circuit, which hears appeals from courts in West Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Virginia. Senators have battled for years over its nominees, leaving seats unfilled for years.


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