Judge Alexander Harvey 2nd plans to step down March 8 as chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore and become a senior judge.
His successor, Judge Walter E. Black Jr., 64, is to be sworn in as chief judge in a ceremony that day.
Harvey, 67, has been chief judge for five years. He has been on the federal bench for more than 25 years after being originally appointed by President Johnson.
Harvey could have retained the chief judgeship until his 70th birthday. But he said yesterday relinquishing the post to become a senior judge would open another full-time judgeship on the busy district bench, something he feels is needed with the pending construction of the so-called "southern district" wing of the court in the Washington suburbs.
The move allows Black to become chief judge before his 65th birthday, in May. Court rules forbid judges from becoming chief judges after they reach age 65.
Harvey noted that the court, which now handles more than 4,000 civil and criminal cases a year, has not had a Republican chief judge since Senior Judge Edward S. Northrop stepped down in 1981 after an 11-year stint.
"If we want to read the election returns," Harvey said, "it's time for a Republican judge to come in."
Black, a Baltimore native, is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School. At age 29 he became the youngest U.S. attorney in the nation when he served an interim appointment here in 1956-57.
A tall, slender man dedicated to wearing bow ties, Black was chairman of the city's Republican Party from 1962 to 1966 and was a party organizer for 18 years.
He was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1982 from a partnership in the Baltimore law firm of Clapp, Somerville, Black and Honemann. That firm later merged with Whiteford, Taylor & Preston.