The Justice Department is trying to persuade Virginia Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. to add the names of blacks and women to the 10 white males he has recommended as candidates for four newly created federal judgeships in the state.
Justice officials yesterday confirmed that they met with the independent senator on Wednesday about objections civil rights and social activist groups have raised with the department and the White House over Byrd's nominees.
The 10 Virginia lawyers Byrd has recommended were proposed to him by two judicial selections panels that the senator established last year in the state's two judicial districts at the urging of President Carter.
Objections raised by the Virginia groups and the meeting Wednesday have produced a sticky situation for Carter who pledged that judicial appointments would be made strictly on merit with an emphasis on the appointment on women and minorities. The groups view Virginia's situation as a test to see if Carter will confront Byrd and stick to his announced objections.
Traditionally, the president appoints judges from a list of nominees submitted by the senior senator of his party from the judge's district. However, the Senate allows any senator from that state the senatorial courtesy of signing a "blue slip" message to the Judiciary Committee that will effectively kill any objectionable appointment.
Some members of the protesting groups said for that reason Carter is limited in how far Byrd can be pushed to change his selection.
carter suggested last year and again last week that senators select nonpartisan committees in their states to nominate judges for the 117 district court positions and 35 courts of appeal positions created by a new law.
Byrd could not be reached for comment yesterday and members of his staff would not discuss the Wednesday meeting. Former Rep. Thomas N. Downing of Newport News, who chaired the Byrd judicial commission for eastern Virginia, has said that his group sought qualified women and minorities nominees, but could find none.
Deputy Attorney General Mike Egan told a group of protesters last week that he would "talk to Byrd and try to persuade him to change the complexion of the nominees," said Ann Macrory of the Washington-based Judicial Selection Project. "He said there was no way Carter would appoint four more white males to the bench in Virginia."
Other participants at the meeting reiterated Macrory's assessment of the meeting. They said that Egan and White House counsel Douglas Huron said they were sympathetic.
The officials also tole the representatives of various women's and minority groups to submit names of persons they wanted considered directly to the heads of the Justice Department's civil and civil rights divisions.
"It's certainly true that the president emphasized" consideration of more women and minorities for judgeships, Huron said. But when asked if Byrd's nominees were contrary to what Carter wanted, Huron said: "You can draw a conclusion from that; I won't."
A spokesman for Egan said that the Justice Department has not decided whether Byrd nominees are unacceptable. "We presumably would not go back and ask him to pick this person or that person," the spokesman said.
Of the 525 federal judges on the bench today, 29 are blacks or Hispanics, Of these, Carter has appointed 11, a Justice Department official said. Of the nine women federal jduges, Carter has picked six, he said.
A district judge is paid $54,500 a year and an appeals judge, $57,500.