Maryland's senators vow to block judicial nominee


WASHINGTON - One of President Bush's appeals court nominees appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, but his fate seemed decided before he uttered his first word.

Bush nominated Claude A. Allen, a deputy secretary in the Health and Human Services Department, to the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va.

But before Allen could be introduced, the two Democratic senators from Maryland vowed he would never be confirmed.

Traditionally, a judicial nominee is introduced by his or her home state senators.

But in an extraordinary tableau, sitting at the same witness table as the two Virginia senators were Maryland Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both incensed because the seat has traditionally gone to a candidate from Maryland.

Sarbanes, known for his laconic and droning manner, was so animated in his remarks that Senate staff members said they were astonished and had never seen him so emotional.

Sarbanes, like Mikulski, did not address Allen's qualifications.

Instead, he said he had been misled by a White House counsel who had assured him that he would try to reserve the seat on the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals for Maryland.

"I will oppose this with all the strength that I can muster," Sarbanes said loudly, startling all in the room who had never heard him speak at such volume.

The 4th Circuit covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Traditionally the seats are filled in a way that all the states are represented proportional to the population.

If Allen is confirmed, it would mean that Maryland, with 20 percent of the population in the circuit, would go from three seats to two seats on the 15-member court.

Senate staff aides of both parties said that Sarbanes and Mikulski should have little difficulty getting their Democratic colleagues to agree to block Allen's nomination.

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