In a nod to Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond at the close of his 48-year Senate career, the Democratic-controlled Senate on Tuesday approved the nomination of a Thurmond protege to a U.S. appeals court.

The Senate voted 55-44 to agree to the promotion of U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Shedd to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., despite accusations that the South Carolina federal judge had been insensitive in civil rights and employment discrimination cases.

It was the closest vote on a federal appeals court judge since the Democrats took over the Senate in June 2001. They had enough votes to filibuster the nomination and hold confirmation up until next year, senators said, but decided against the action in deference to Thurmond.

Overshadowing the vote on Shedd was the imminent departure of Thurmond, the oldest and longest serving senator ever, who retires in January. Senators spent most of the day wandering over to Thurmond's Senate desk, shaking his hand and receiving one of the honored pieces of candy from his Senate stash.

"We're so proud of our senior senator from South Carolina," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in line to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee next month. Hatch told senators that Shedd should be confirmed to show how much Thurmond, R-S.C., has meant to the Senate.

The soon-to-be centenarian — whose career spanned a conversion from Democrat to Dixiecrat to Republican — used what is expected to be his final speech to the Senate to call for Shedd's confirmation.

Thurmond's 100th birthday is Dec. 5.

"I rise today to express my strong support for the nomination of Judge Dennis Shedd for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals," Thurmond said in his shaky, hesitant voice. "Judge Shedd is a man of great character who will make an outstanding addition to the federal appellate bench. He possesses a high sense of integrity, a through knowledge of the law and a good judicial temperament. I want to assure my colleagues that Judge Shedd is committed to upholding the rights of all people under the Constitution. This fine man is truly deserving of such a fine honor and he will serve the people of the 4th Circuit with distinction."

A few seconds later, Democrat and Republican senators joined to give Thurmond a 45-second standing ovation. A beaming Thurmond struggled back up from his seat and gave a jaunty wave to his colleagues.

Shedd's confirmation was the 100th judicial nomination of President Bush's to get Senate approval, leaving 30 federal appeals and district court nominees still unconfirmed by the Senate this year.

GOP senators argued that accusations against Shedd have been trumped up and contend he deserves the seat for his work as a federal judge in South Carolina.

Shedd is a former assistant to Thurmond, who retires in January. Thurmond asked that Shedd be promoted to the appeals court before the senator bows out.

None of Bush's judicial nominees has been voted down in the full Senate, although two were stopped in the Judiciary Committee.

Democratic senators and liberal groups have criticized Shedd's rulings as a trial judge. Shedd has a reputation for "assisting the defense in civil cases and ruling for the defense in employment rights cases," outgoing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told the Senate Monday.