Sen Harry F. Byrd Jr. (I-Va.) has sent the names of five men selected by a judicial selection commission he named last spring to the attorney general as nominees for two new federal judgeships in the eastern district of Virginia.
Byrd said he acted in the spirit of President Carter's pledge to remove politics from the selection process by forwarding only names selected by the nine-member commission. Traditionally, federal judges have been nominated by the senior member of a state's Congressional delegation who is a member of the president's party.
Among the nominees are two Northern Virginia circuit judges, James C. Cacheris, 44, of Fairfax, and Wiley R. Wright, 46, of Alexandira.
The other nominees are Judge J.H.M. Willis Jr., 44, of Fredericksburg, former judge Richard L. Williems, 54, of Richmond, and Judge Nelson T. Overton, 50, of Hampton.
Willis declined last night to make any statement about party affiliation. Williams said he has no party affiliation. Overton could not be reached immediately.
"There are other fine Virginians who would make excellent judges and whom I would have liked to have seen on this list," Byrd said in a letter to Bell, "but having adopted President Carter's commission approach, I feel committed to consider only those names recommended to me by the commission."
Former Newport News congressman Thomas N. Downing, the selection committee chairman, said the nominees were picked "on merit alone, in good faith."
Downing said that while various members of the Virginia General Assembly and some of the state's congressmen suggested nominees, none of the five finalists came from any of them.
Other suggestions totaling 33 names, came from bar associations, civic groups and individuals, Downing said.
In his letter to Bell, dated Thursday and made public last night, Byrd said "Frankly, I had not considered the commission approach until I received the President's letter (last March 25). Although many of my colleagues in the Democratic Conference did not look with favor upon the President's suggestion. I thought it a good approach and implemented his request by appointing two commissions (for the eastern and western districts) of outstanding Virginians, lawyers and non-lawyers."
Attorney General Bell told the American Law Institute last June that "we have encouraged all senators to establish judicial selection commissions in their own states for these appointments. Some senators have done so. Most have not."
The fact that Byrd was asked to name the commissions caused a flap last summer among some Democratic regulars in Virginia. Byrd ran and was elected as an independent in 1970, after a long career as a conservative Democrat in the legislature and during a partial term in the Senate.
The western district of Virginia also is scheduled to get two additional federal judges under the provisions of a bill passed by the Senate last fall. A slightly different House version was passed by the House Judiciary Committee last Tuesday, leaving intact the four additional judges for Virginia.
Byrd told the attorney general he acted "anticipating that Congress will soon enact" a compromise version of the bill. He said he would forward his nominations for the western division vacancies "at an early date."