A Worthy Nominee

Saturday, November 24, 2007

FROM 1997 to 2001, Rod J. Rosenstein worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Greenbelt. For the past two years, he has been the top federal prosecutor in Maryland and has earned plaudits for his crackdown on gang violence and public corruption. He has worked in public service jobs in the Washington area, primarily in the Justice Department, for roughly 18 years and has lived in Bethesda for the past 10.

Yet Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin are portraying Mr. Rosenstein as a carpetbagger. The senators criticized President Bush's nomination Nov. 15 of Mr. Rosenstein to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit because they claim Mr. Rosenstein lacks "a lengthy history of state legal experience in Maryland and strong Maryland roots." The senators also argue that Mr. Rosenstein is doing such a good job as U.S. attorney that he should be kept in that post rather than moved to the court.

Neither of these arguments is persuasive. Federal appeals court judges rule almost exclusively on the basis of federal law -- not state and local law -- so experience in the local bar or local courts would have little, if any, impact on their ability to perform the job. And punishing Mr. Rosenstein by denying him a judgeship because of an outstanding performance as U.S. attorney is perverse. In fact, the office has stabilized under Mr. Rosenstein and counts among its ranks senior lawyers who would be capable of taking charge.

Ms. Mikulski and Mr. Cardin may be hoping to stall Mr. Rosenstein's nomination until a Democratic president can fill the Maryland seat. Such a move would not be unprecedented, but if it is happening, it is wrong. And it is most disturbing when it affects a nominee of Mr. Rosenstein's caliber.

To be sure, a Democratic president would be unlikely to tap someone like Mr. Rosenstein, who clerked for Douglas H. Ginsburg, now the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. From 1995 through 1997, Mr. Rosenstein worked for the independent counsel investigating Whitewater-related matters. But Mr. Bush's nominee is also a veteran of the Clinton administration's Justice Department who wins rave reviews from Jo Ann Harris, one-time head of the Clinton Justice Department's criminal division. Ms. Harris calls him a "perfect" candidate for a judgeship; "smart, savvy and as straight an arrow as I have encountered."

Ms. Mikulski and Mr. Cardin signaled early on their opposition to a Rosenstein nomination, a message that Mr. Bush chose to ignore. We have called for Mr. Bush and other presidents to consult more with senators of both parties when choosing nominees. But blocking Mr. Rosenstein's confirmation hearing -- as the Maryland senators may yet do -- would elevate ideology and ego above substance and merit, and it would unfairly penalize a man who people on both sides of this question agree is well qualified for a


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