The inability of a judicial nominating commission to find minority or female candidates worthy of a judgeship on Howard County's Circuit Court indicates clearly why the "old boy" network of these panels has to be replaced.
The fact that a county commission was unable to nominate even one qualified African American from a community as diverse as Howard's is unacceptable. Too often in the past, these selection commissions have kept the state judiciary too white and too male for too long.
These commissions have the power to forward lists of recommended names for judgeships to the governor, who then chooses from those lists. Howard's 13-member commission is comprised of lawyers and citizens. To Gov. Parris Glendening's credit, he is reconstituting all of the state's judicial nominating panels in hopes of creating a broader mix of commission members. This, in turn, should make the panels more sensitive to the need for a diverse judiciary. In the past, local bar associations were allowed to pick all six lawyer members, but the governor will now choose two.
In some cases, officials need to consider taking a more proactive role in recruiting minority and female candidates. Howard certainly should have one of the highest concentrations of non-white and female attorneys in the state. The current passive system, which has the commission considering only those candidates who apply, may not be sufficient. Likewise, local organizations concerned about the lack of diversity on the Howard judiciary ought to play a more vocal role by suggesting to the commission names of high-caliber lawyers to ensure that the group picks from a well-rounded list.
Mr. Glendening says he is determined that the old commission will not get its way in the selection process. The list of candidates for one of two vacant judgeships in Howard was submitted to the governor in April but has been put on hold. The new commission needs to produce candidates that better reflect the community.
The experience and sensitivities a minority or female candidate could bring to the bench are important considerations. The citizens of Maryland don't need more embarrassing incidents involving woefully out-of-step judges to realize the need for diversity on the bench.