The House yesterday voted, 319 to 79, to create 145 new federal judgeships, the largest number of federal judgeships ever created in the history of the country.
Since the Senate passed a bill to set up 148 new federal judgeships last May, President Carter will be handed the patronage plum of being able to appoint more federal judges than any president in history. The difference between the House and Senate bills will be resolved by a conference committee.
At present there are 525 federal judges. The legislation would increase that number by about 27 percent.
In response to the recent controversy over the ouster of U.S. Attorney David Marston in Philadelphia, the bill would require the president to promulgate procedures and guidelines for the merit selection of nominees for the 110 U.S. district court judgeships it authorizes. But the president could waive such regulations for any nominee by notifying the Senate of the reasons for the waiver, and no nomination could be invalidated for failure to comply with any regulation.
Under the Constitution, the president has the power to nominate, and with the consent of the Senate, appoint federal judges. Generally however, senators from each state have recommended nominees for federal judgeships, and generally, nominees whom the Senator from that state opposes are not confirmed by the Senate.
However, President Carter has urged that merit be more of a consideration than politics and some senators have set up judicial review committees to nominate judges on the basis of merit.
Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.) called the merit selection provision in the House bill so full of loopholes "you could march the whole army of 110 judges through it with golf clubs on their backs."
Since the bill was considered under a procedure which would allow no amendments, Bauman said there was no opportunity to "clean up" the merit selection provision, which, he said, "might be called a Marston Plan."
Marston, ousted by Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, has charged his dismissal was "political' and came only after Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D-Pa.), a possible target of the prosecutor's office's investigation, called the president asking that Marston be fired.
In addition to the 110 new U.S. district court judgeships, the bill creates 35 judgeships in the U.S. circuit courts of appeal. The Senate bill creates 110 in the district courts.
The Judiciary Committee estimated it would cost about $38.5 million to create the 145 new federal judgeships.
Under the bill, the District of Columbia would get two additional circuit court judges, Maryland would get two additional district court judges and Virginia would get four additional district court judges.