In the name of affirmative action, Gov. Parris Glendening has put all judicial nominations in the deep freeze, thus creating unnecessary postponements and citizen frustrations with Maryland's court system.
The governor's step also has delivered a stinging blow to those already nominated for District Court and Circuit Court vacancies, and to the local nominating panels that selected them. As the president of the Howard County Bar Association commented, "It makes them all look like racists."
That's unfair. And it is unwarranted. There are 16 judicial vacancies in Maryland that need to be filled -- now, not in the late fall when the governor finally gets around to it after receiving new lists from his own local nominating commissions.
Lists of applicants deemed highly qualified by the outgoing commissions are on his desk. All he has to do is scrutinize the lists and determine which individuals meet his criteria for serving on the bench. If none of the names is acceptable, he can reject any of the lists. But at least he can fill some of the vacancies immediately.
Take the problems the governor is creating in Howard County. Two of the five circuit court seats are vacant. As a result, civil cases are backing up. Earlier this month, three trials had to be postponed because no judges were available. Chalk that up to Mr. Glendening's stall.
The list in front of the governor has six names, two of them women but none of them black. One of the women is a District Court judge, the other is president of a county bar association. Is the governor claiming these two women aren't qualified? That they wouldn't add much-needed diversity to the Howard circuit?
At a minimum the governor could fill one judicial slot now to help end the growing backlog of cases, then wait till the fall when his revamped nominating commission will be ready to provide him with a new list.
There's no doubt that Maryland's courts need more diversity. In Howard County, for instance, there are no blacks on the bench. But color or gender should not be the lone criteria for picking judges. A number of blacks served on Howard's judicial nominating panel. Yet they concluded that the six best nominees to send to the governor happened to be white.
In pursuing his affirmative action agenda, Mr. Glendening had better take care not to go overboard. A highly qualified lawyer seeking a judgeship should not be denied because he or she is black -- or white.