Federal Prosecutor Nominated To Appeals Court in Richmond

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007

The Bush administration nominated Maryland's top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, late yesterday to fill a long-standing vacancy on the federal appeals court in Richmond.

Rosenstein, a Justice Department veteran, has been mentioned as a candidate for the judgeship almost from the moment he assumed the prosecutor's job two years ago. He is widely credited with increasing cooperation with local law enforcement authorities and with restoring stability to an office that had been rocked by controversy under his predecessor.

But Maryland's two Democratic U.S. senators, who have the power to block the nomination, said in a joint statement that Rosenstein should remain in the prosecutor's job. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin said they told the White House in September that Rosenstein lacks the lengthy history of legal experience in Maryland and strong Maryland roots that they considered the "primary criteria" for the judgeship.

"Rod Rosenstein is doing a good job as the U.S. attorney in Maryland and that's where we need him," Mikulski said, adding, "In the twilight of the Bush administration, we don't need an acting U.S. attorney in Maryland."

Cardin said, "We had hoped to work with the administration to find a consensus candidate for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals with deep roots in the Maryland legal community."

Rosenstein, 42, said he has spent his "entire legal career in nonpartisan public service in my home state of Maryland and in our nation's capital."

"I understand that judicial confirmation is a political process," he said in a statement. "The most a lawyer can ask for is a fair hearing. I have faith that I will receive a fair hearing."

The political leanings of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, for which Rosenstein was nominated, resonate nationally because the panel has played a key role in terrorism cases. Although long viewed as one of the country's most conservative courts, a growing list of vacancies -- now five of 15 seats -- has left the court evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees. The panel reviews federal court decisions from Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Efforts to fill vacancies on the panel have stalled for years in part because the White House has failed to win support for its nominees from home-state senators. Rosenstein was nominated to fill a seat that was left vacant after Judge Francis Murnaghan Jr. of Maryland died in 2000.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the political stalemate over nominations to the 4th Circuit bench is unlikely to end before Bush's term expires. Rosenstein's Senate confirmation is all the more unlikely in view of Mikulski and Cardin's opposition, Tobias said.

"The bottom line is it's not going anywhere without some support of the Maryland senators," Tobias said. "This is a pattern with every nominee, basically, whom the president has suggested [but who] have not been supported by the home state senators."

Tobias said he thinks Bush is "just playing politics at this point," creating a campaign issue for the Republican Party by nominating a candidate he knows will be blocked by Democrats.

It is unclear who might fill Rosenstein's position if he departs for the appeals court.

During Rosenstein's tenure in Maryland, his office has vigorously prosecuted gangs, using federal racketeering laws to indict more than two dozen alleged members of MS-13. The office also secured a guilty plea from former state senator Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), who is scheduled to be sentenced today in a corruption case.

Bill Chase, the head of the Baltimore division of the FBI, said Rosenstein has been "a real joy to work with" and would be "an excellent candidate" for the bench.

"I think he's got the temperament that's important to being a circuit court judge," said Chase, a political independent. "In his present job, he's shown a willingness to work with all his federal partners. I would definitely support him."

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