The Senate yesterday confirmed the nominations of Baltimore Supreme Bench Judges Shirley B. Jones and Joseph C. Howard to U.S. District Court judgeships in Maryland. Jones is the first woman and Howard the first black appointed to the U.S. bench in the state.

At their confirmation hearings last month, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) told the Senate Judiciary Committee that their nominations would fulfill President Carter's and Congress' commitment to "seek out men and women for the federal courts whose selection will be based on merit."

Howard, 56, was given an "unqualified" rating by the Maryland Bar Association, but he told the committee the rating "stems from my activist position" as a lawyer in civil rights cases in the 1960s and on his decision in 1968 to run against a sitting judge, whom he defeated. Howard said former Acting Gov. Blair Lee III later told him that "some lawyers will never forgive you for that."

Sarbanes told the panel the Baltimore city bar rated Howard as qualified.

Jones, 54, was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Bench in Baltimore and only the second woman to serve at that level, called the circuit bench elsewhere in Maryland. She twice was elected to 15-year terms.