Despite a top rating from the American Bar Association this week, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein faces key opposition from the state's senators for a post on a federal appeals court.
The ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Rosenstein "well-qualified," its top ranking for judicial nominees. But Maryland's senators appear to be unmoved.
At a White House event this month, President Bush singled out Rosenstein, saying the Richmond, Va.-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is overburdened and understaffed. Rosenstein and two other 4th Circuit nominees would make "outstanding" judges, the president said.
The president has criticized the Senate for not confirming a number of his nominees. Political observers say the Democrats are waiting and hoping they can push through their own choices if a Democrat wins the White House in November. The 4th Circuit seat allocated to Maryland has been vacant since 2000, when Judge Francis X. Murnaghan died.
Last fall, Rosenstein was nominated for the bench, but his appointment has been opposed by Maryland's two Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin. Home-state support is crucial for any nomination because the Senate must confirm any prospect, and deference is given to the wishes of the local congressional delegation.
Rosenstein declined to comment yesterday on the status of his nomination.
Representatives of the two senators said their opposition to Rosenstein has not changed.
"Senator Mikulski has not doubted his qualifications. She believes he's doing a good job as U.S. attorney, and that's where he should stay," her spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said.
"The ABA rating takes a look at his general legal experience but does not address the underlying concerns that the senators have with Mr. Rosenstein. Their concerns are with his Maryland-specific experience," said Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky. Cardin is also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee
Both say they want Rosenstein to remain as prosecutor because he is doing a good job. They also say his ties to Maryland are insufficiently deep to warrant the appointment.
Aides to Cardin said private discussions have been held with the White House about other potential nominees. The White House ultimately rejected moderate, consensus nominees with lengthy Maryland legal experience, the aides said.
Some of the names previously floated by Mikulski including sitting federal judges in Maryland who were nominated by Republican presidents.
In a October 2003 statement, Mikulski said the Bush administration had "found three well qualified attorneys for the district court - Judges [William] Quarles, [Richard] Bennett and ... [Roger] Titus. They are all exceptional nominees who represent the types of nominees the administration could have chosen to fill Judge Murnaghan's seat."
Sun reporter David Nitkin contributed to this article.