Posted: April 27, 2006; updated: April 28, 2006 with Judge Roth's comments


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Judge Jane Richards Roth is on the verge of moving to part-time status on the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, creating a rare opening on the court and setting off speculation that some of the stars of Delaware's judiciary are in the running for it.

The candidate mentioned most often as the front-runner to replace Roth is U.S. District Judge Kent A. Jordan, the newest member of the federal judiciary in Delaware, although others from the federal bench, state Supreme Court and Court of Chancery also are being discussed.

Roth, a member of a distinguished legal family and half of a famous power couple, will exchange her seat at the end of next month for senior status, a semi-retirement option for federal judges in which they take a reduced workload but remain on full salary -- in her case $175,000 for the appeals court.

"I have written the president that I intend to take senior status May 31," Roth said Friday in a brief telephone interview.

Roth, who is 70, has been on the bench for more than two decades, taking Republican appointments first as a U.S. District Court judge nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 and then a U.S. Circuit Court judge nominated by President George H.W. Bush.

Roth said she decided to give up her seat now so another Republican judge could fill it. "A significant factor is that we have a Republican in the White House right now," she said.

Roth has had the distinction of being a judge while married to U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a five-term Republican who died in 2003 at the age of 82. Jane Roth went on the bench after practicing law at Richards Layton & Finger, a premier firm founded by her grandfather.

Federal judges have lifetime appointments, and Delaware has only two seats on the 14-member 3rd Circuit Court, which also has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Virgin Islands, so vacancies are coveted when they occur. The last judge to go on was Thomas L. Ambro, who had a Democratic appointment from President Bill Clinton and joined the court in 2000.

Jordan, the only Delaware judge appointed by President George W. Bush, is said to be in a strong position to vault to the appellate court from the district court, where he has been sitting since 2002.

Others who could be considered include U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson, state Supreme Court Justice Randy J. Holland and Chancellor William B. Chandler III, all Republicans like Jordan.

There is some surprising chatter about Vice Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr., a Democrat who would be an unusual choice for a Republican White House submitting someone for confirmation to a U.S. Senate with a Republican majority. Judicial appointments sometimes take strange twists, however.

Also mentioned is Louis J. Freeh, the former FBI director and MBNA executive who previously was a federal judge.

Typically a federal judge is nominated by the president on the recommendation of the senior senator of the same party, but the procedure in Delaware has been less clear-cut of late because U.S. Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Thomas R. Carper both are Democrats.

For the last judicial opening -- when Jordan was named to the bench -- the Bush administration asked U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican who is the state's lone congressman, to provide a list of candidates. Then it bypassed Castle's top choice, Wilmington lawyer Karen L. Valihura, and selected Jordan from farther down on the list.

It did not hurt that Jordan had a White House connection. Brett M. Kavanaugh, then the associate counsel, knew Jordan from the days that Kavanaugh was a federal law clerk in Wilmington and Jordan was an assistant U.S. attorney who kindly invited him to play in pickup basketball games.

Jordan had the inside track then. Although Kavanaugh is up for a judgeship himself these days, there is no reason to think Jordan does not have it now.