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WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) -- The federal court in North Carolina's eastern district has been without one of its judges for seven years.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield told The StarNews of Wilmington (http://bit.ly/UIRUH8 ) that he thinks it's time the Eastern District gets its first African-American judge. Butterfield wouldn't say whether his racial preference for the new judge has caused a stalemate that has kept the seat unfilled since Judge Malcolm Howard decided to assume senior status at the end of 2005.

The new judge would be appointed by the president, confirmed by the U.S. Senate and serve for life. With a new Congress in session, Butterfield says he hopes U.S Sen. Kay Hagan will wipe the slate clean and make a historic nomination.

A spokeswoman says Hagan has already made several recommendations to the president.

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