After resisting pressure to use a citizen "merit selection" panel to fill federal judgeships, Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) yesterday announced his own selections -- the first black and first woman recommended for appointment to the all-white, all-male federal bench in Maryland.
After taking suggestions from a variety of bar groups over a two-month period, Sarbanes recommended that President Carter appoint Baltimore judges Shirley B. Jones and Joseph C. Howard. The senator consistently refused to agree to demands from citiezn groups and urgings from Carter to name a citizens panel to screen potential nominees.
Traditionally, federal judgeships have been filled in each state by nominees chosen in secret by senators from the presidenths party. These individuals were then "recommended" to the president for actual nomination, but were rarely rejected.
Speculation in Maryland's legal circles for months has focused on Jones and Howard as the most likely candidates to fill the new judgeships on the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
One knowledgeable Maryland lawyer predicted last fall that Sarbanes would nominate a woman and a black for the posts and would refuse to accept Carter's proposed selection process because "he would want the credit himself... and not want to share it with some merit selection panel."
Carter has stated that he wants to name more women and minorities to the federal bench, and many attorneys believed the new merit selection panels were proposed in part to achieve that goal.
However, in Virginia, where Sen. Harry F. Byrd used citizen committees to screen nominees. these panels recommended 10 white males to fill four new judgeships in that state.
Carter has threatened to leave the judgeships vacant unless Byrd agrees to add women and minorities to his list of nominees.
In announcing his appointments yesterday, Sarbanes said the selections would "fulfill the commitment expressed by the president and Congress, a commitment which I strongly share, to seek out men and women for the federal courts whose selection will be based on merit."
Jones, 53, was admitted to the Maryland bar at the age of 22 after earning the highests scholastic average in her law school class at the University of Baltimore. She has served as an assistant attorney general and a judge of the Orphans Court beofre her appointment in 1961 to the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, the city's trial court.
Howard, 56, who practiced in a small firm in Baltimore in the '60s, became a Baltimore criminal prosecutor in 1964. In 1967, he became a controversial figure when he charged there was a history of racial discrimination in the handling of rape cases in the city. In 1968 he was elected to a 15-year term on the Supreme Bench.
In 1977, he applied for a seat on the Maryland Court of Appeals but failed to win the approval of either the city, or state bar associations. In seeking the appointment to the federal bench Howard said he was found qualified by the city and federal bar associations, but again unqualified by the Maryland State Bar Assoication.
The chairman of the Maryland State Bar Associations's judicial selection committee, which independently screened applicants for the judgeships, said he was "pleased" with the selection of Jones. Howard had not been on the committee's list of qualified candidates.
The chairman, Jeffrey Snith, also noted that the selection of two candidates, considered months ago to be Sarbanes' choices, made it appear that "an arrangement was made" before the senator began his screening process.
Sarbanes denied that he went through the process with any preconceived idea of whom he would select.