The resignation last week of Judge Malcolm Richard Wilkey from the U.S. Court of Appeals here leaves two vacancies on that court, and Washington attorneys are wondering whether the White House will break down and pick from the local legal community to fill one or both of them.
Patricia M. Wald, who has spent virtually her entire legal career in Washington, is the only D.C. attorney on the court, and lawyers grouse that the president too often goes to other jurisdictions to fill vacancies here.
Wilkey, by the way, was general counsel for Kennecott Copper Corp. in New York before he was appointed to the appeals seat in 1970 by President Nixon.
Washington lawyers attribute what they see as inequities in the appointment process to the District's low standing in the political pecking order and the fact that it has no voting representation in Congress.
Too often, they say, judicial candidates who are rejected by senators in other states in favor of more politically connected choices are sent to the District, where there's no one powerful enough to raise a fuss.
"I get very concerned when other circuits can't get somebody through because we don't have a senator who can blue-slip them and we get them in the District," said one prominent D.C. lawyer.
One case that raised hackles recently was the selection of Kenneth W. Starr for the federal appeals bench here. Starr was originally slated for an appeals post in Virginia, but he ran into heavy fire there from the state's congressional delegation.
"We just have extraordinary lawyers and somehow they're just not given a fair shake," said D.C. Bar President Marna Tucker.
U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova said he thinks lawyers here are being "patently unrealistic" if they think President Reagan will tap the D.C. legal crowd for the federal appeals court anytime soon.
DiGenova notes that attorneys here have a reputation for leaning to the left. And the administration is more likely to go national in a search for intellectual candidates to sit on a court regarded by many as second only to the Supreme Court in importance.
"The American people have decided that they want the kind of quality judicial selection that has been the case under this president," diGenova said.