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Barbara Milano Keenan - CONFIRMED
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
On September 14, 2009, President Obama nominated Barbara Milano Keenan, a Justice on the Virginia Supreme Court, to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the federal districts within Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Nominations to the federal courts of appeal are significant for obvious reasons, but the Fourth Circuit is unique. The Court has heard a significant number of cases involving the scope of executive power. And, a large number of civil rights claims related to race, gender, and employment discrimination are litigated within its districts. Although the Court has long been considered a bastion of ultraconservatism, after a series of departures it is now more evenly split. Thus, single additions to the bench—including Judge Keenan’s—will very likely impact the Court’s overall jurisprudential leanings.
Judge Barbara Keenan was born in Austria, but was raised in Northern Virginia. She received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1971, and her law degree from George Washington University School of Law in 1974. In 1992, she received an L.L.M. from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Judge Keenan began her legal career as a county prosecutor in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she served from 1974 to 1976. Following this, she worked in private practice for the firm Keenan, Ardis and Roehrenbeck, where she made partner. In 1980, Keenan became a judge of the General District Court of Fairfax County. In 1982, she moved to the Circuit Court, and was the first woman to be elected to this position by the Virginia General Assembly. In 1985 she was one of ten judges elected to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, a newly created court. In so doing, she was the first woman to serve as a state appellate court judge in Virginia. In 1991 she was elected to the Supreme Court of Virginia, where she has remained since. She holds the distinction of being the only woman to have served on all levels of the Virginia court system. If confirmed to the Fourth Circuit, she will be the first woman from Virginia to attain such a position.
The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary gave Judge Keenan its highest level of support bestowed upon a nominee, a rating of "well qualified." American Bar Association, Ratings of Article III Judicial Nominees 111th Congress, Oct. 1, 2009 (http://www.abanet.org/scfedjud/ratings/ratings111.pdf).
Alliance for Justice has analyzed Judge Keenan’s record as a state court judge. On matters relating to discrimination and access to justice, Keenan’s rulings display a strong understanding of the legal issues at hand and a sensitivity to the real world consequences of court decisions. She dissented from a ruling denying standing to a fair housing organization that alleged racially discriminatory lending practices. She also rejected morality-based arguments in a Virginia Supreme Court ruling addressing LGBT parental rights.
However, some lawyers have raised concerns with her opinions in the employment and death penalty contexts. Judge Keenan issued a narrow ruling interpreting a state workers’ compensation statute to exclude undocumented workers, the result of which resulted in their lack of access to medical coverage. And she has upheld the imposition of the death sentence for persons who committed criminal acts as a minor.
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