Conservative 4th Circuit Chief Judge Retires Due to Early-Onset Alzheimer's

Updated: A federal appeals judge once regarded as a contender for a spot on the U.S. Supreme Court is retiring due to the early onset of Alzheimer’s.

Chief Judge Karen Williams of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told the White House of her retirement in a letter Wednesday, the Times and Democrat reported Thursday. In an interview with the newspaper published Friday, Williams, 57, said she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“I’m really a private person, and I usually don’t like to talk about things like that. But … when you’ve been told that you’ve got early-onset Alzheimer’s, you want to make sure that your decisions are not questioned. So, you can’t stay on the bench,” she told the Times and Democrat, as she wiped tears from her eyes.

The Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit, long regarded as a conservative bastion, could tilt further to the left with Williams’ retirement. President Obama now has five vacancies to fill on the appeals court.

Williams has served since 1992, when she became the first female judge on the 4th Circuit after her nomination by President George H.W. Bush, the story says. She had been considered a potential Supreme Court nominee in 2005 after the retirements of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“Williams is known on the bench for her conservative viewpoint, Southern gentility and crisp, clean writing style,” the story says.

In a phone interview with the ABA Journal, a law clerk in Williams’ chambers who did not want to be identified said the chief judge was retiring with disability pay. “Obviously, she has spent 17 years on the bench and considers it a great part of her life, and naturally she is sad about having to leave,” he said. “But she is I think looking forward to spending time with her grandchildren and her family.”

Before Williams’ retirement, the 4th Circuit had four vacancies, six judges who were appointed by Republicans and five appointed by Democrats. President Obama has nominated U.S. District Judge Andre Davis of Baltimore to fill one of the vacancies.

Hat tip to How Appealing, which also provided an update on Williams’ disease.

Updated at 9:50 a.m. to include comments from Williams’ law clerk and on July 10 to include news of Williams’ disease.

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