In 1994, Judge J. Dickson Phillips Jr. of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took senior status—a form of semi-retirement available to judges who turn 65 and have completed at least 15 years of service.
So far, no one has been able to take his place, literally. The seat held by Phillips, a 1978 appointee of President Carter, is the longest-running vacancy in the federal appellate system.
President Clinton tried twice to fill Phillips’ seat and was foiled both times by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Helms was reportedly miffed at Senate Democrats for having previously failed to confirm Terrence Boyle, a federal judge and former Helms legislative aide, who had been nominated for a different opening on the Richmond, Va.-based circuit.
Shortly after President George W. Bush took office, Boyle was once again nominated—reportedly at Helms’ urging—this time for Phillips’ seat. But another North Carolina senator, Democrat John Edwards, blocked the appointment—doing unto Boyle what Helms had done to the Clinton nominees.