Is Alex Williams Fit To Be a Judge?

May 16, 1994

The state's NAACP chapters are concerned about the possibility that the American Bar Association may rate Alexander Williams Jr. "unqualified" for a federal district court vacancy in Maryland. Mr. Williams is the two-term state's attorney in Prince George's County. President Clinton nominated him last year. Because an ABA committee has yet to rate Mr. Williams, no Senate confirmation hearings have been held. Meanwhile, rumors circulate the committee has decided Mr. Williams is not qualified, or is leaning in that direction.

This prompted a letter to The Sun last month from Leroy W. Warren of Silver Spring, who is chairman of the national NAACP's Crime and Criminal Justice Committee. He said of the ABA committee's rumored decision: "We have some serious concerns that Mr. Williams has become a victim of racial discrimination. . ." That we doubt.

But we do have serious concerns that Mr. Williams may become the victim of the ABA's traditional elitism and its myopic emphasis on just one type of legal experience. The ABA doesn't consider black skin a handicap if one comes from a blue-ribbon law firm. For example, the ABA last year approved William Quarles for a U.S. judgeship in Maryland. He is an African-American who is a member of the firm of Venable, Baetjer, Howard & Civiletti.

Such lawyers usually have had a lot of experience in federal courtrooms, which is important. Mr. Williams' experience has been almost exclusively dealing with criminal matters in state trial courts, as a lawyer, public defender and prosecutor. That may be a minus in the eyes of the ABA, but frankly it looks like a plus to us.

Congress is in the process of federalizing practically every street crime known to man. Federal judges are going to be trying lots of cases like those Mr. Williams knows best.

There may be a couple of other things working against the Williams nomination. One, the White House sent his name to the Senate without first checking with the ABA, putting some noses out of joint. Two, Mr. Williams won his state's attorney's post in a hard-fought election against a mainstay of the Prince George's legal and political community, then State's Attorney Arthur "Bud" Marshall. Some of his colleagues, whom ABA investigators interviewed, are still bitter and anxious to get even.

If the ABA committee rates Mr. Williams "unqualified," his sponsor, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, and President Clinton should support his nomination anyway. Most "unqualified" ratings doom nominees. But in previous circumstances similar to this one, the ABA's advice has been ignored. Mr. Williams has done a fine job as Prince George's state's attorney. Unless the ABA can present persuasive evidence to support an "unqualified" rating, the Senate should confirm Mr. Williams and let him take his seat on the federal bench.

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