WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - The Senate Judiciary Committee put off a vote yesterday on President Bush's choice of Claude A. Allen for a federal appeals court after Maryland's two Democratic senators renewed their argument that the seat that would be filled by Allen, a Virginian, rightfully belongs to Maryland.
Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes asserted that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which includes Maryland and four other states, has long apportioned seats according to each state's population and that Allen's ascension would upset that tradition. Maryland holds two seats on the court; it formerly held three, before Francis D. Murnaghan Jr., a liberal judge from Baltimore, died in 2000.
After hearing the arguments, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who chairs the committee, postponed a vote until July. Hatch said he would ask the White House to help find a solution to the problem.
"I personally believe that Maryland deserves a third seat," Hatch said. "And I'm going to try to work it so that Maryland gets a third seat."
But he acknowledged that the White House does not share his view. A White House spokeswoman, Erin Healy, said the only acceptable solution for the Bush administration remains getting the 43-year-old's nomination through the committee and onto the Senate floor.
Bush "stands firmly behind this nomination," she said. "He will continue to call for an up-or-down vote for all his judicial nominees, including Mr. Allen."
The president has the option of putting Allen on the court through a "recess appointment," a power he has invoked before during congressional recesses. But Bush has pledged to make no more recess judicial appointments; in return, Democrats have agreed to up-or-down votes on 25 nominees. Allen is not among the nominations Democrats have agreed to vote on.
Hatch has long said that he wanted to find a way to accommodate Mikulski and Sarbanes, going so far as to suggest legislation to add a seat to the 4th Circuit Court that could go to Maryland. But Sarbanes and Mikulski have said the promise of another Maryland seat sometime in the future would not be enough to persuade them to drop their opposition to Allen or forestall a possible filibuster.
Allen, who is deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, lacks the 12 years of legal experience the American Bar Association advocates for judicial nominees. That is among the reasons why the NAACP, the Maryland Bar and the two Maryland senators oppose his nomination.
Though Allen, a staunch conservative, sits on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum from the Maryland senators, neither is arguing against him on those grounds. "This is not about politics," Mikulski said. "We in Maryland don't play politics with the judges."
Their argument seemed to stir one Republican on the panel, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a conservative from Georgia.
"I'd be mad as hell" if Georgia were about to lose a seat on the 11th Circuit Court, he said.
Sun staff writers Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David L. Greene contributed to this article.