Posted: Nov. 4, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Richard Andrews finally got the robe and the lifetime appointment he deserved, but it was not easy, not for him or for the federal court he is joining.

Andrews was confirmed Thursday by the unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate for a judgeship that has been open on the U.S. District Court here in Delaware for more that 15 months, since Joe Farnan took retirement and set up a law practice.

Andrews will not need a GPS to get to the federal courthouse on King Street in Wilmington. It is where he has spent most of his professional life as an accomplished prosecutor and also a court clerk out of law school.

Still, as straightforward as the geographical path is, the existential route toward the bench was not.

Getting onto the court here is a Hail Mary pass. There are only four judges, and their tenure lasts essentially as long as they want it to, so the openings are rare. Factor in the politics of a presidential appointment and the advice and consent of a co-equal, incurably autonomous Senate, and it becomes medieval.

Not to forget that timing counts, too. It takes a Democratic president like Barack Obama to nominate a Democrat like Andrews.

Talent, temperament and experience are not enough. Andrews took the one right step he could by himself. He became a federal prosecutor.

Not that it is a prerequisite, but it can seem that way for this court. Greg Sleet, the chief judge, was a U.S. attorney, and Sue Robinson and Len Stark were assistant U.S. attorneys. Farnan also was a U.S. attorney. As a matter of fact, he was the one who hired Andrews as an assistant U.S. attorney.

There are other ways to this bench. Jane Richards Roth, who used to sit there, was born into one of the most prominent legal families in Delaware -- as in the founder at Richards Layton & Finger -- and married someone who would eventually be a U.S. senator, but that path is not for everybody.

Andrews put in more than 20 years at the U.S. Attorney's Office. Then he did something else smart. Four years ago he went to work for Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general, when he took over the office after the 2006 election.

Maybe the next best thing to marrying a U.S. senator is going to work for the son of one, particularly one who would wind up in a year or so as the vice president.

There was nothing more to do but wait. Farnan's departure last year created an opening, but the odds were still iffy. Andrews made it onto the list of three candidates recommended to the White House by Tom Carper, the Democratic senior senator, but he was not regarded as the frontrunner.

In addition to Andrews, the finalists were Linda Ammons, the Widener law school dean, and C.J. Seitz, a Wilmington lawyer. Andrews was informally the courthouse favorite, Seitz was the choice of the state's influential corporate bar, but Ammons immediately emerged as the likely nominee.

Andrews simply out-waited her candidacy as it foundered. Ammons was not homegrown here, she was not admitted to practice law in Delaware, but in Ohio, and her credentials were in academia and government, not trial experience. Attention switched to Andrews.

He was nominated in May, approved for the Senate's consideration by the Judiciary Committee in September, and finally got his vote. The outpouring of e-mail during the day from the state's two Democratic senators was frantic.

Tom Carper will speak on the nomination! Chris Coons did speak on the nomination! Here is what Carper said! Coons says Andrews is confirmed! Beau Biden offers congratulations!

Carper summed it up, "In every facet of his life, Richard Andrews has performed with distinction. . . . His sound legal judgment, his tireless work ethic and his experience as a federal prosecutor have prepared Richard Andrews well to fill this seat on the U.S. District Court in Delaware."

Andrews is not the only one who has been waiting for the lumbering cosmic alignment to make him a judge. His confirmation means the court will be complete for the first time in five years. Before it waited 15 months to get Andrews, it waited nearly four years for Stark to fill an earlier vacancy.

Full at last. There is order on the court.