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Get to Know a Judge: Roger Gregory

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 15, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Judge Roger Gregory is the first African American judge to sit on the Fourth Circuit. He's also the only judge we know to have ever been appointed to the same judicial seat by two separate presidents.

Aside from these distinctions, Gregory is also known for authoring the Fourth Circuit's opinion in King v. Burwell, which upheld the Affordable Care Act's subsidies. That opinion, coming from a court once described as "the most aggressively conservative federal appeals court in the nation," helped maintain a central piece of Obamacare -- a piece that is currently before the Supreme Court.

A Difficult Appointment and Then an Easy One

Gregory grew up in Virginia, attending Virginia State University for his bachelors degree and University of Michigan for his J.D. After four years of practice, he co-founded a firm with L. Douglas Wilder, who went on to become the first elected black governor in the United States.

When Gregory was nominated for the Fourth Circuit by President Clinton in 2000, the seat he was meant to occupy had been vacant for ten years -- that is, ever since its creation. For decades, the Fourth Circuit had been controlled by conservative senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, who opposed Clinton's nominations, including Gregory. At the twilight of his administration, Clinton appointed Gregory as short term recess appointment, to last only till the end of the Congressional session. Gregory was reappointed by President George W. Bush, however, and confirmed by a 93-1 vote, with only Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi dissenting.

Notable Decisions

Gregory hasn't made too many national headlines since his appointment -- until recently. In King v. Burwell, he upheld the ACA insurance subsidies that help individuals purchase reduced-cost health insurance. Just two hours before his opinion was issued, the D.C. Circuit found that the subsidies violated the text of the law, which, ACA opponents argued, limited subsidies to policies purchased through state exchanges, not the federal one. Gregory, joined by two other Fourth Circuit justices, found the statute to be ambiguous and deferred to the IRS's interpretation of the subsidies. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the appeal from King this March.

In other notable cases, Gregory also joined the majority opinion in Bostic v. Schaefer, holding that Virginia's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. Gregory is also known for his strong dissents in decisions forcing journalists to reveal the identity of confidential sources and limiting the right of individuals to protest eminent domain takings.

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