Norman P. Ramsey, a Baltimore lawyer who has defended public figures in political corruption cases, was recommended yesterday to be a federal judge.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) said he will recommend Ramsey's nomination by President Carter to fill a vacancy on the nine-judge U.S. District Court for Maryland. Sarbines called Ramsey "one of Maryland's preeminent lawyers."

Ramsey, 57, represented Irvin Kovens, who was convicted along with former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel; former Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson, and former U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster (D-Md.) in political corruption trials in the 1970s.

Although Ramsey still must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, his recommendation by Sarbines is the major step toward the judgeship, Ramsey would fill a vacancy created by the death of Judge C. Stanley Blair.

Sarbanes said his recommendation of Ramsey is in keeping with the commitment of the president and Congress "to seek out men and women for the federal courts whose selection will be based on merit."

The last persons recommended for federal judgeships by Sarbanes went on to become the first woman and first black elevated to the federal bench in Maryland, judges Shirley B. Jones and Joseph C. Howard.

While those two recommendations for judgeships fulfilled Carter's desire to see women and blacks named to judgeships, Sarbanes has declined to appoint panels of lawyers to make recommendations for judgeships, as suggested by the president and operative in many states.

Sarbanes has defended his practice of making his own recommendations, pointing out they have resulted in nominees who conform to the spirit of the president's directive.

Traditionally, federal judgeships have been filled in each state by nominees chosen by senators from the president's party, making their recommendation tantamount to appointment.

But because of the president's oft-stated desire to have nominees picked on merit rather than on political pull, some recommendations have faced uphill battles in the confirmation process.

In Virginia, four new judgeships have remained vacant because of a controversy. Ten white men were recommended by citzens' panels named by Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (I-Va.), and Byrd has refused to support the added nomination of a black Richmond state judge, James E. Sheffield.

An aide to Sarbanes said Ramsey was one of 22 Maryland lawyers who filed out questionnaires, prepared by the Justice Department in reply to invitations sent by Sarbanes to the more than 10,000 lawyers and judges in the state.

Sarbanes interviewed all 22 applicants, listened to suggestions from 40 organizations and then added "my personal evaluation" in picking Ramsey.

In addition to his legal work, Ramsey has been active in public activities.

He is president of the Baltimore Fire Board, member of the city's board of ethics, and has served as president of the city school board and president of the city Civil Service Commission.

Ramsey attended Loyola College in Baltimore and graduated from the University of Maryland Law School. He began his legal career as a clerk to former U.S. District Judge W. Calvin Chestnut, and then worked as an assistant federal prosecutor for two and one-half years.

Since 1950, except for two years in the office of the Maryland attorney general in 1955 and 1956, he has been a partner in the 70-lawyer Baltimore firm of Semmes, Bowen & Semmes.