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Liberal interest groups painted a target on Claude Allen, but the conservative nominee to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals drew surprisingly few arrows at his Senate confirmation hearing last week. Amid the clamor over the Virginian’s nomination to a seat traditionally held by a Marylander, President George W. Bush’s failure to consult the state’s Democratic representatives and the threat of a filibuster, little attention has been paid to Allen’s qualifications for the job. If Allen makes it through confirmation, he will bring to the bench the versatile skills of a political and bureaucratic veteran, but almost no practical legal experience. Former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen is an Allen booster. The McGuireWoods partner told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a statement that Allen has the “combination of mastery of the law, leadership and commitment to public service, and unwavering support for the Constitutional principles that make the United States the envy of the entire world.” The liberal Alliance for Justice’s report on Allen’s nomination, in contrast, calls him a “rigid ideologue” and an “inappropriate choice” for the bench. Currently the deputy secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, Allen, 43, has been lead counsel on only one case in his career — a $129,000 employment suit in which he represented the plaintiff. It was just one case, but it was before the right court: After winning the case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Allen successfully argued against the appeal in the 4th Circuit. His brief, 7 1/2 year stint as an attorney does not reach the American Bar Association’s preferred 12-year minimum of legal experience for judicial nominees. That may account for his “qualified,” rather than “well qualified,” rating from the group. Allen is not speaking to the press while his nomination is pending. The early years of Allen’s career may have sown the seeds for the current opposition to his nomination. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in both political science and linguistics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1982, Allen signed on as spokesman for the re-election team of then-Sen. Jesse Helms, R.-N.C. Allen spoke disparagingly of Helms’ opponent, then-North Carolina Gov. James Hunt, and noted that he had links to “radical feminists” and “the queers.” When Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., asked Allen during last week’s confirmation hearing whether “federal judges should use the word queer” as a pejorative term for a homosexual, Allen’s response did little to appease his critics. He explained that when he made the comment, the dictionary defined queer as “odd or unusual,” and that is what he meant. “I don’t think anyone there thought that answer was sincere,” says Marcia Kuntz, director of the Judicial Selection Project at the Alliance for Justice. “I think that the Democrats raised serious concerns. And he did nothing to allay those concerns.” A significant part of Helms’ legacy in the Senate was his blockade of judicial candidates nominated by Democratic presidents. His power was especially felt in the 4th Circuit, which maintained five judicial vacancies until last year. Helms also vociferously opposed the creation of a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., one of Allen’s lifelong role models. Allen, who is devoutly Christian, said during his confirmation hearing that when Helms voted against the holiday, “it was the most difficult day in my life.” After the 1984 election and a brief stint at a North Carolina marketing firm, Allen in January 1985 moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Two years later, he started law school at Duke University. Following his 1990 graduation, Allen landed a plum clerkship with Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He spent the next four years as a civil litigator at Baker Botts in the District. From there he moved to Richmond, Va., as counsel to then-Attorney General James Gilmore III, who detailed Allen to handle the response to a spate of African-American church burnings across the Southeast. Allen organized a joint effort by Southern attorneys general to investigate the crimes and prosecute the arsonists. In 1997, he served as Virginia deputy attorney general for the civil litigation division during Gilmore’s transition to governor. Cullen served as attorney general during that period. Once governor, Gilmore named Allen secretary of health and human resources. Gilmore has vigorously endorsed Allen for the judgeship. Allen’s tenure as state secretary of HHR included support for abstinence-only sex education. It was also marked by a controversial debate over right-to-die decisions, stemming from the state’s unsuccessful intervention to stop Michele Finn from having a feeding tube removed from her husband, who was in a persistent vegetative state. Finn attended Allen’s confirmation hearing to publicize her opposition to his nomination. At the hearing, Allen described his role in the situation as bureaucratic and “minor.” He denied that he took extraordinary personal interest in the Finn case. Toward the end of Allen’s hearing, Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked him, “What would your grandfather say to you [about the pending judgeship]?” Allen’s grandfather was one of 25 children and the first in his family born out of slavery. A sharecropper, he raised 13 children and died at age 114. Allen was visibly moved by the question and choked back tears. “My grandfather had a significant impact on my life,” he said. “He would say, ‘Continue serving our nation and giving back to those you have received from.’”

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