In the wake of Friday’s court action to strike down as unconstitutional, North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, those who don’t like it have focused on the U.S. district court judge who issued the order — Max Cogburn of Asheville. “It nationalizes the election and focuses it on federal issues that deal with the U.S. Senate: One key role is confirming or not confirming the president’s judges,” Dallas Woodhouse told reporters on Saturday. Woodhouse runs Carolina Rising, a conservative nonprofit organization based in Raleigh. “If you don’t like this ruling, it is appropriate to take it out on Kay Hagan.” It may also be appropriate to take it out on North Carolina’s other U.S. senator, Republican Richard Burr – and 94 other U.S. senators.
But a closer look at Cogburn will make it hard to fill in a paint-by-numbers portrait of a “judicial activist.” And try as some may, Hagan will likely have ammo to answer critics. Cogburn’s nomination by President Barack Obama in 2010 was enthusiastically supported by both Hagan and North Carolina’s other senator, Republican Richard Burr.
Here’s what Burr said about Cogburn during his Nov. 17, 2010 confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee: “He is an excellent choice and I believe will be a great addition to the court. … He was admitted to the bar in 1976 and has made a name for himself, with a strong record in his legal career and in public service; an assistant U.S. attorney; a chief assistant U.S. attorney; magistrate judge; and, currently, a partner at Cogburn & Brazil. During his 12 years as a federal prosecutor, he was also the lead attorney on the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force. As an assistant U.S. attorney, he was responsible for prosecuting murder cases, drug trafficking, voter fraud, among other federal crimes. … Out of all the qualifications that Max Cogburn brings to this nomination, let me say this. He is a good man and we need good individuals to serve on our bench. I highly recommend to the Committee that we move as expeditiously this nominee as we can.”
Hagan, who spoke to the committee after Burr, said: “I, too, join my colleague, Sen. Burr, in welcoming Judge Cogburn, and thank him for being here today. As you can see, this is a bipartisan recommendation. It is extremely important to me that North Carolina have highly capable representation on the Federal courts. … Judge Cogburn also served as an assistant United States attorney from 1980 to 1992, where he prosecuted murder cases on the Cherokee Indian Reservation. He also prosecuted drug trafficking, voter fraud, and a wide variety of Federal crimes. During his time with the U.S. attorney’s office, Judge Cogburn served as the lead attorney on the Organized Crime and Drug Task Force, as well as the chief assistant U.S. attorney. And from 1995 to 2004, Judge Cogburn served as a magistrate judge on the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.”
In the highly partisan environment in pre-2012 election Washington, his nomination was approved 96-0 on March 10, 2011. Support came from Republicans Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim DeMint, then a Republican from South Carolina.
Before Friday’s action, Judge Cogburn was last in the news in April when he overruled a recommendation that a lawsuit against Duke Energy over coal ash contamination on Charlotte’s water source be dismissed. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation sued Duke last June over contamination from the now-retired Riverbend power plant on Mountain Island Lake. Such “citizen suits” are allowed under the federal Clean Water Act unless state authorities are taking enforcement actions on the same grounds. For more resources about Judge Cogburn, start with Judgepedia.