Partisan politicking and the Maryland judiciary


DURING THE five years that he has been governor of Maryland, Parris N. Glendening has appointed 144 judges, representing 53 percent of the state judiciary.

In fact, fully 40 percent of Maryland's judges are brand-new Glendening appointees; the rest are reappointments. At this pace, before he leaves office, Mr. Glendening will have appointed more than 80 percent of the judges in Maryland.

Mr. Glendening's recent appointment of Peter Krauser, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals raises the question of whether partisan politics has infected the judicial appointive process of the Glendening administration. A careful review of Mr. Glendening's judges confirms the painful truth -- that Mr. Glendening is methodically turning Maryland's courts into an enclave of the Democratic Party.

Changing electorate

At one time, Maryland was a monolithic Democratic state, but that is no longer the case. Today, only 58 percent of Maryland's voters are Democrats. The other 42 percent are Republicans or independents. Yet, at a time that Maryland is becoming a genuine two-party state, Mr. Glendening is packing Maryland's courts with Democratic judges. Of the 144 appointments he has made to date, only 13 are Republicans, a mere 8 percent. Eighty-seven percent of Glendening's judges are Democrats (seven appointees do not appear to be registered voters). Although nearly 10 percent of Maryland's voters are independents, no Glendening appointee is an independent. Even more stunning, since he began his campaign for re-election to a second term in 1998, Mr. Glendening has appointed 60 judges, only two of whom are Republicans. That means only 3 percent of Mr. Glendening's recent appointments are Republicans; 97 percent are Democrats.

Mr. Glendening's record of partisanship in his judicial appointments is even more appalling when viewed by county. Allegany, Washington and Carroll counties are Republican majority counties. Mr. Glendening has appointed three judges apiece in these three counties, all Democrats. Cecil and Charles counties have surging Republican registrations and voters reliably choose Republican candidates in gubernatorial and national elections. Mr. Glendening has appointed five judges apiece in Cecil and Charles counties, all Democrats. Howard County is another county with growing Republican registrations and a strong recent record of electing Republicans. Mr. Glendening has appointed seven judges in Howard County, all Democrats.

Striking example

Mr. Glendening's judicial appointments in Baltimore County are particularly striking. Like the other central Maryland suburban counties, Baltimore County has a growing Republican population and is the home of popular Republican elected officials such as Bob Ehrlich, Sandra O'Connor, Ellen Sauerbrey and Helen Bentley. Mr. Glendening has made nine judicial appointments in Baltimore County, all Democrats.

One reason why Mr. Glendening's judicial appointments are so partisan is because, at the very outset of his administration, he reconfigured the process for appointing judges, created nominating commissions containing heavy majorities of gubernatorial appointees and then packed the nominating commissions with Democrats. His appointees to his Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission include a single Republican, and his Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Commissions in such Republican venues as Carroll, Anne Arundel, Harford and Frederick counties have no Republicans at all.

Even allowing for the fact that political considerations will occasionally tinge a governor's judicial appointments, what Mr. Glendening is doing in Maryland cannot possibly be explained by anything other than a partisan attempt to turn Maryland's courts into a Democratic fiefdom. His recent record of appointing Republican judges 3 percent of the time (2 Republicans out of 60 appointments) cannot possibly be explained away as inadvertent or coincidental.

Politicizing court

If just a few votes had changed in 1994 and Ellen Sauerbrey had been elected governor instead of Mr. Glendening, she undoubtedly would have been able to find well-qualified Republicans to fill every judicial opening in the State. But that would have been terribly wrong. It is just as terribly wrong for Mr. Glendening to be doing the same thing, albeit from the Democratic side of the fence.

Republicans have long been solid supporters of the "sitting judge" concept, believing that it is inappropriate to subject judges to the election process. Republicans, therefore, have resisted the occasional temptation to support election challengers of the judicial appointees of the sitting governor. Republican support of the "sitting judge" principle, however, has always been premised on the assumption that the governor, be he Mandel, Lee, Hughes or Schaefer, was doing all he could to select the best people, irrespective of their political affiliations. In pursuing a policy of stacking Maryland's courts with Democrats, Parris Glendening has broken faith with this premise.

Consequently, Maryland Republicans need to re-examine their support for the sitting-judge principle. They should resolve that, as they did in the recent judicial election in Baltimore County, they will actively oppose this governor's judicial appointments until such time as he adopts a fair and impartial approach to judicial selection.

Christopher West is counsel of the Maryland Republican Party.

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