Sierra Leonean born U.S. District Court Judge, Abdul Kallon from Birmingham was nominated last Thursday by President Barack Obama to an open judgeship on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Al.Com reports.
If he wins U.S. Senate confirmation Kallon would become the first African American from Alabama to serve on that appeals court.
“Judge Kallon has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions,” President Obama stated in a press release. “He will be a thoughtful and distinguished addition to the Eleventh Circuit, and I am extremely pleased to put him forward.”
The 11th Circuit hears appeals from Alabama Georgia and Florida and has judges from all three states on its panel.
“I enthusiastically express my support for the nomination of Judge Abdul Kallon by President Obama for the United States Court of the Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit,” U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., stated in a press release Thursday.
Sewell said Kallon has served with distinction on the federal court for North Alabama “and his elevation to the Eleventh Circuit will continue the tradition of excellence and commitment to justice established by such distinguished Alabama jurists such as Judge Frank Johnson.”
“President Obama saw in Judge Kallon the same qualities of integrity, judicial temperament, collegiality, and keen intellect that has earned him the respect and admiration of his judicial colleagues, attorneys who appeared before his court, and members of the Alabama bar,” Sewell stated. “In nominating Judge Kallon for elevation to the appellate court, President Obama has selected a jurist of impeccable credentials who was rated ‘well-qualified’ by the American Bar Association.”
Sewell stated that if Kallon is confirmed, he would be the first African American jurist from Alabama to serve on the 11th Circuit. “Equally important, the speedy confirmation of Judge Kallon will ensure that Alabama is fairly represented on the court and will fill a two-year vacancy on the Eleventh Circuit that as has created a case backlog that has been deemed a ‘judicial emergency’ by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law issued a statement applauding the nomination.
Kallon’s nomination would fill a federal judicial seat that has been vacant since 2013, the Lawyer’s Committee stated. The group also urged the U.S. Senate to prioritize and move forward with a confirmation process to address what it also called a “judicial emergency” that has been created by the vacancy.
“Judge Kallon’s confirmation would mark a significant milestone in the ongoing effort to achieve judicial diversity across our nation,” stated Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke.
Earlier on Thursday the Lawyers’ Committee and the National Bar Association had announced it is hosting a Feb. 20 panel discussion and press conference regarding the impact of the federal judicial vacancies crisis in the state of Alabama and the need to promote and protect diversity on the bench.
Carl Tobias, an University of Richmond School of Law professor who follows federal judicial appointments, however, doesn’t expect a quick confirmation.
“It (the nomination) is somewhat late because appointments slow and halt in a presidential election year,” Tobias stated in an email to AL.com. “There are three other circuit nominees nominated ahead of him this year, and none has even had a hearing yet.”
Sewell urged U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions of Alabama to support Kallon’s confirmation.
“The selection of this nation’s federal judges should not be a partisan issue, but rather we all benefit when candidates are considered based on their qualification, abilities, and character,” Sewell stated. “For the same reasons they supported Judge Kallon’s confirmation in 2009, the Alabama senators should once again support this highly qualified jurist whose integrity, brilliance and judicial temperament has earned him the praise and respect of his judicial colleagues and members of the Alabama bar.”
Sessions and Shelby, however, issued a joint statement Thursday evening saying they will oppose the nomination.
“Throughout the process of meeting with the White House on filling judicial vacancies, we negotiated in good faith to find nominees that will serve our state well,” according to the statement. “While we thought progress had been made, apparently the White House was never interested in good faith negotiations, and it is too late now.”
Kallon was sworn in as a U.S. District Court Judge for the 31-county Northern District of Alabama in January 2010. The position is a lifetime appointment.
Kallon’s family moved to the United States from from Sierra Leone in 1980 when he was 11 years old. He was raised by a single mother.
Kallon graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1993. After law school he clerked for U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon, who retired in 2009 and left the vacancy that Kallon would ultimately fill on the federal bench.
Before being appointed a federal judge, Kallon had been a partner at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings in Birmingham, defending employers in labor and employment cases.
Kallon has been active in the Birmingham community and has served on numerous boards, including the Legal Aid Society of Birmingham, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham, and Children’s Village Birmingham, according to the White House announcement. Kallon has also been involved in numerous state and federal bar associations.
Kallon had been recommended to Obama for his current district court seat by a panel of Alabama legal experts.
During his tenure on the federal bench, Kallon has presided over a number of criminal, civil, and civil rights cases.
Among them is a civil rights lawsuit filed against the Birmingham Police about use of pepper spray in city high schools.
Kallon in September ruled Birmingham police Student Resource Officers’ use of the spray on students for non-violent minor incidents was unconstitutional. But Kallon refused to restrict the use of pepper spray by the SROs, and instead ordered the development of new training and procedures on how and when the devices will be used.
Kallon was critical in his 120-page opinion of what he saw as a “cavalier attitude” toward use of the spray for minor infractions such as back-talking school officials.
The Birmingham Police Department has appealed Kallon’s ruling to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.