In Alabama, they call the electric chair "Yellow Mama," and Edward E. Carnes is known for sending convicts into her arms.

An assistant attorney general in charge of capital litigation, Carnes wrote the state's death penalty law. He has been a vigorous proponent of limiting Death Row appeals of the kind that prompted the unusual U.S. Supreme Court order blocking further legal moves so California could carry out the execution last week of a convicted murderer. In capital cases where blacks face death, Carnes has defended state convictions even when blacks have been excluded from juries. An Alabama legal journal has dubbed him "Mr. Death Penalty."

As his nomination to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals moves toward a Senate committee vote as early as next week, Carnes's record has become the latest battleground on which opponents of capital punishment are waging war against the Bush administration.

Critics of the nominee say he is not qualified for a judgeship because he lacks judicial experience. While some critics, like supporters, praise Carnes's legal skill and energy, they question his ethics and say he has been overzealous in pursuing the ultimate criminal penalty.

Carnes, 41, was quoted in the International Law Journal last year as saying, "The problem defendants have is 99.9 percent of them are guilty as hell. I don't care what kind of defense strategy you have, the jury that hears the facts is going to give a death sentence."

When asked about the statements in his April 1 confirmation hearings, Carnes told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he regretted what he said. He called the language "hyperbolic" and an "exaggeration," according to a draft of his testimony.

Nan Aron, director of the Alliance for Justice, an association of public-interest legal organizations, said Carnes "has gone out of his way to close the courthouse doors to those most vulnerable in society. And as far as we're concerned, that is the heart of the problem."

In response to the civil rights groups' concerns, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) requested that the committee hold off on the Carnes vote at least until May 7.

Angered by the intensifying opposition, President Bush last week lashed out at Carnes's critics, saying they have decided to "play politics" with his judicial nominations. Bush accused them of being more concerned about defendants' than victims' rights. He urged Senate Democrats not to allow the Carnes nomination to be "held hostage."

In an unusual pairing, Carnes counts among his supporters Morris S. Dees, a staunch death penalty opponent and director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery. Dees has confused fellow death penalty opponents by praising Carnes. Dees calls him a "highly ethical, principled person" who will make "a very good federal judge."

Dees contends that Carnes might not be the kind of judge the Bush administration expects. Administration officials have pushed Carnes because of his staunch defense of the death penalty, but "capital cases are a small part of the legal issues that come before the 11th Circuit," Dees said.

"I think the Republican administration is blinded by Ed's support of the habeas corpus thing. They think that's going to make him a judge that they like. I think they have overlooked the fact that Ed is a very progressive, liberal-minded lawyer."

Bush has picked Carnes to succeed Frank M. Johnson Jr., one of the two judges on a three-judge panel that in 1956 struck down bus segregation in Montgomery. On his 73rd birthday last fall, Johnson announced his retirement after 37 years on the federal bench, including the last 13 as an appellate judge. The 11th Circuit in Atlanta includes Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

Johnson has spoken favorably of Carnes's nomination, but his Montgomery office said this week that he is making no further comment. Carnes also is refusing interviews.

Since 1981, Carnes, a Harvard Law School graduate, has headed the capital litigation section of the Alabama attorney general's office, where he has argued for the state in post-conviction death penalty cases. During that time, nine prisoners have been executed, six blacks and three whites, figures proportionate to the numbers of murders in the state committed by blacks and whites.

Carnes also is in charge of policing judicial conduct and he has prosecuted 19 judges, including two who were removed from the bench for making racist remarks, according to the attorney general's office.

Both Dees and Bill Baxley, a Democrat who is the former Alabama attorney general who hired Carnes in 1975, praise Carnes's skill as a litigator. They point to his legal fight against the appeal by a white man convicted of murder in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four black girls were killed in the blast. Robert Chambliss was convicted in 1977, but appealed on the grounds that the delay between the time of the crime and his indictment was too long, and on grounds of an allegedly faulty witness identification. Carnes prevailed, and the conviction was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. "That was quite a piece of legal work," Dees said.

Dees also said he supports Carnes for reasons that have to do with the nominee's personal life. "Before I decided whether I would support him I asked him personal questions," Dees said. For instance, Carnes attends one of the few integrated churches in Montgomery. Dees added that when one of Carnes's children brought home a school newspaper with a racist remark in it, "Ed wrote a letter to the principal suggesting that that was not the kind of thing he wanted his child exposed to."

J. L. Chestnut Jr., chairman of the Selma-based Alabama New South Coalition, a 3,000-member civil rights group that recently voted to oppose Carnes, said that in a recent private conversation Carnes tried to convince him too that there were no racial skeletons -- such as membership in an all-white country club -- in his closet.

Still, Chestnut said, "there is widespread feeling among blacks in Alabama that Ed has gone far beyond the call of duty" in seeking the death penalty.

Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, cited a capital case, now on appeal, that Carnes handled. In it, a district court found that a black woman's death sentence was tainted by racial discrimination because the prosecution, using jury strikes, had eliminated 12 blacks and secured an all-white jury. Carnes appealed the district court ruling to the 11th Circuit in an attempt to uphold the original court sentence.

Carnes told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not condone the prosecutor's tactics, but said, "My position was not to judge whether or not that was good practice or a permitted practice. My position . . . was to advocate the position of the state of Alabama that that conviction should not be overturned with the possibility that someone who was guilty might go free. . . . "

Carnes also defended the state's capital punishment system and denied that there was racial bias in the application of the death penalty. Six black attorneys from Carnes's office have written to the Senate committee on Carnes's behalf. "To say that a government attorney who carries out his ethical duty to advocate in favor of sustaining convictions is condoning racism is like saying that criminal defense attorneys who advocate on behalf of their clients are condoning crime," they wrote.

Critics have raised other questions about Carnes's ethics. Wade Henderson of the Washington office of the NAACP said Carnes should be made to explain "at least two instances of overreaching in the preparation of orders for judges." Litigators on both sides of a case routinely propose orders for judges to use in issuing their decisions. However, Carnes is accused by his critics of writing orders that mistate the case record and address issues of no relevance.

Judges do not have to accept the language offered by Carnes, Bright said, but they often do so because of the persuasiveness of Carnes's legal arguments and his role as the state's judicial watchdog.

Carnes has never been the subject of an ethical complaint, the Alabama attorney general's office said. Rosa Davis, a colleague who is head of the appellate division, said, "I do not believe nor have I ever personally seen any order in which Ed Carnes has put anything that wasn't the subject of proof or part of the process in the case."

Baxley, the former attorney general, dismissed critics of Carnes as "people that are against capital punishment, and that's it. There is no valid criticism of Ed Carnes. They can say that he perhaps doesn't have the varied experience, but you could have said that about {William H.} Rehnquist," the chief justice of the United States.

To date, no Judiciary Committee senators have voiced public opposition to Carnes.