The U.S. Senate voted unanimously about 5 p.m. Thursday to confirm Magistrate Judge William T. Lawrence as a federal judge, meaning he'll be the Southern District's first-ever magistrate to be elevated to the constitutionally established Article III judge status.
Senators took a break from discussion on wiretapping to talk about judicial nominations, and held a roll-call vote at 4:35 p.m. that took about 30 minutes. The vote: 97-0.
President George W. Bush had selected Lawrence in February to succeed Judge John D. Tinder, whom the Senate confirmed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals late last year. Lawrence won unanimous consent from the Senate Judiciary Committee May 22.
On Thursday, the Senate's floor vote played out on C-Span 2 for anyone able to watch.
Sen. Richard Lugar, who'd recommended Magistrate Lawrence, read a statement prior to the vote, saying the jurist possessed the same degree of integrity and intelligence as his predecessor, Judge Tinder, and was an example of the strong judicial leader needed for this position. The senator mentioned Magistrate Lawrence's background before taking the federal bench in 2002 - his work as a public defender and his time on the Marion Circuit Court, where he reduced pending cases by 20 percent within a few years of taking the bench.
"Throughout Bill's career, his reputation for personal courtesy, fairness, decency and integrity was equally well-earned and widespread among colleagues and opposing counsel alike and on both sides of the political aisle," Lugar told his fellow senators.
While the newly confirmed judge wasn't immediately available late Thursday or early Friday, Magistrate Lawrence's court staff watched the vote and was able to alert him about the news. He was caught up in settlement conferences until about 6 p.m., and he returned to settlement matters first thing this morning.
U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker described the confirmation as "an amazing culmination of the suspense," and said she's looking forward to it being official once the president signs off on it.
The process to find a new magistrate for the Southern District has already begun, and applications are due Monday.