Pictures 1 and 2, The nomination of Richmond Judge James E. Sheffield, is discussed by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) as he met with Richmond Mayor Henry Marsh III, lawyer Oliver Hill, Jack Gravely of Virginia NAACP, Chan Kendrick of Virginia ACLU, lawyer Chuck Mangum and Gammiel Poindexter, Surry attorney. AP
About two dozen prominent Virginians lobbied the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday in behalf of a black state judge whose nomination to the federal bench is being fought vigorously by Sen. Harry F. Bryd Jr. (Ind.-Va.).
The delegation, which included Catholic Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Diocese of Richmond, also urged the state's junior senator, Republican John W. Warner, to oppose the tradition of senatorial courtesy that would permit Byrd to block the appointment of Circuit Court Judge James E. Sheffield to be the first black federal judge in Virginia history.
Warner told the group, which included state, county and city elected officials and leaders of black and women's bar associations, labor, education and civil rights groups, "I can make no commitment except to be totally fair, objective and unbiased."
Sheffield, 47, was nominated by President Carter last month for one of four new federal judgeships in Virginia. He would be the first black ever to serve in a high judicial post in the state. The other three nominees were among 20 white male lawyers proposed by two citizens committees that had been named by Byrd, as the state's senior senator.
A top aide to Byrd also met with the delegation yesterday and reiterated the senator's contention that he followed the instructions of the president in naming two nonpartisan judicial search commissions, one each for the eastern and western court districts in the state.
State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond) told the Byrd aide, Jack F. Davis, that "we are not opposing" the three other nominees, J. Harry Michael Jr. of Charlottesville, Richard L. Williams of Richmond and James P. Jones of Abingdon, all Byrd-supported candidates.
Wilder said that while the Byrd commissions each included one black and one woman, "We don't feel their makeup fully represented women and minorities." Wilder, the only black in the state Senate, urged Byrd to withdraw his opposition and "give us a hearing" on the respective merits of the nominees. Wilder got Davis to agree that Byrd had no one specifically in mind to replace Sheffield.
Davis repeated Byrd's contention that he followed the president's desire to "take the system out of politics" by naming the commissions and then steadfastly supporting their recommendations.
After those commissions reported their findings in February 1978, President Carter sent then-attorney general Griffin Bell to Byrd's office to ask him to expand the list of nominees to include both minority and women candidates.
Immediately after Carter announced his nomination of Sheffield on April 9, Byrd said he would "strongly oppose" the confirmation. Byrd then returned to the Judiciary Committee the "blue slip" sent to him as Sheffield's home state senator, an action that traditionally has meant a veto of a judicial nomination. Committee Chairman Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) has said however, he will not automatically follow that longstanding senatorial courtesy.
The Virginia delegation did not win any promises of support yesterday from the staff aides of the Judiciary Committee members they visited, although Warner repeated his pledge to push for a hearing on the nomination. A committee aide said a hearing ordinarily would occur within eight or nine weeks of a nomination, after Democrats and Republicans studied FBI reports and conducted their own investigations of the nominees. "But this obviously is no ordinary nomination," the staff member said.
Rep. Herbert E. Harris II (D-Va.), who helped organize yesterday's effort, told the participants they were "in the middle of a historic event" whose achievement could "restore confidence in the judicial system."