The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland is, like many federal trial courts, under-judged. The authorized strength is 10 judges, but there are three vacancies. If it were not for semi-retired senior judges available to pitch in, the court would be unable to do its job.
Nominations have been sent to the Senate by the president and Justice Department to fill two of the three vacancies, but they may not be approved this year. This has nothing to do with the qualifications of the nominees. William Quarles, a lawyer in private practice in Washington, and Katherine Jacobs Armentrout, a federal prosecutor here, are well respected, even by the Democrats who control the Judiciary Committee, but they are among some 50 Republicans awaiting Senate action and this is a presidential election year.
Federal judgeships are, in addition to everything else, patronage plums. The possibility of a Democratic president next January is reason enough for some Democratic senators to decide to wait till 1993 to act on most of those Bush administration nominations to the federal courts now pending. Reports from Washington are that only a very few more -- maybe 10 -- will be lucky enough to be confirmed before adjournment. (Maryland's two nominees might well be among those: He's black, she's a woman, and Democrats have said they want to see more of both in the federal judiciary. Also, the judgeships they have been nominated for have been vacant for about a year.)