Appeals Court Nominee Was 'Driving While Black' Plaintiff

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U.S. District Judge Robert Leon Wilkins, who was nominated today to fill one of three vacancies on the federal appeals court in Washington, was once stopped by Maryland State Police officers. That incident led to a landmark case concerning racial profiling of black-male drivers from which the phrase "driving while black" was coined and popularized.

Wilkins, who currently sits on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is expected to be nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is considered the second-most powerful court in the land after the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Barack Obama also announced plans to nominate Patricia Ann Millett and Cornelia Pillard on Tuesday during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. Pillard is a Georgetown University Law School professor, and Millet is an appeals court attorney, based in Washington.

Wilkins, Millett and Pillar will fill three vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit, and their nominations are expected to set off a battle between the White House and Senate Republicans who don't think the vacancies need to be filled. Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican-ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, has voted to eliminate one seat, move a second one to Atlanta and move a third to New York.

The expected nominees are not expected to raise much objection. Millet worked in the administration of George W. Bush, and the Senate unanimously confirmed Wilkins during Obama's first term.

Wilkins, a Harvard Law School graduate and a native of Indiana, made legal history in 2008, when he and family members, who were riding in a rented vehicle, were pulled over by Maryland State Police for speeding. As it turned out, police were ordered to make traffic stops of black men driving expensive cars because they were believed to be drug couriers.  

Read more at The North Star News