Fourth Circuit Nominee Pamela Harris Raises Concerns

President Obama recently nominated Georgetown Law Professor Pamela Harris to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. As her nomination awaits confirmation from Congress, her previous public statements are under scrutiny.

At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Texas Senator Ted Cruz challenged Harris for her previous descriptions of the Constitution as “a profoundly progressive document.” Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley also expressed concerns about Harris’ ability to guard against “imposing [her] own views” in her decision making.


Professor Harris is a member of the American Constitution Society (ACS), the nation’s leading progressive legal organization. The National Review writes that this “confirms that she is precommitted to imposing her left-wing political preferences from the federal bench.” At an event promoting her book, Harris said, “I sometimes wonder whether when we think about someone like Chief Justice Warren . . . whether we almost have, by now, a stunted sense of what the legal choices really are, what really is a liberal legal outcome . . . I think that we’ve stunted the spectrum of legal thought in a way that removes the possibility that there could have been more progressive readings of the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment.” The National Review observes that this nominee “believes the Warren Court was too conservative.”


In another post, The National Review wrote that “she reads her contemporary political preferences into her view of the Constitution.” In 2008, Harris said, “I just don’t think that any account of the Constitution that even seems to privilege the Constitution as it was originally ratified, . . . I don’t think it’s consistent with the way most people do—and the way we should—think about the Constitution.” She went on to say that judges should instead appeal to general values and principles found in the Constitution.


Harris gained years of experience in appellate litigation when she was a partner at O’Melveny & Myers. Harris was also an advisor to Attorney General Eric Holder when she worked at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.


Harris’ nomination is heralded by liberal organizations. The New Republic praises her as a woman who has “a great professional network that will give rise to the next generation of liberal legal elites; and she will be an eloquent and inspiring champion of liberal jurisprudence.”


Professor Harris’ nomination raises significant questions regarding her understanding of Constitutional authority and her willingness to honor the Constitution over her personal political beliefs.