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Zirkin assails Jealous for likening Court of Appeals to Supreme Court

Sen. Robert A. ‘Bobby’ Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Sen. Robert A. ‘Bobby’ Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous drew fire from a leading state senator of his own party Tuesday with his call for Marylanders to vote for him, lest the state’s top court be dominated by Republican appointees, like the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It is a blatant attempt to nationalize the judicial appointments issue,” said Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “I think it’s an irresponsible thing to do.”

Zirkin’s criticism came in response to a tweet Monday from the Jealous campaign stating that “given what’s happening @SCOTUS, we cannot afford to let the GOP pick our judges too.”

Zirkin said there is no comparison between gubernatorial appointments to the Maryland Court of Appeals – which have historically been nonpartisan – and presidential selections to the U.S. Supreme Court, which have evoked brutal partisan battles, including one currently over Republican President Donald Trump’s pending nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation by the U.S. Senate would preserve what has been a 5-4 dominance of Republican appointees on the Supreme Court

During his four-year term, the governor elected in November by Maryland voters will have the opportunity to appoint at least four of the seven judges on the Court of Appeals, including the chief, because of the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age of 70. (Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Clayton Greene Jr., Robert N. McDonald and Joseph M. Getty all turn 70 in the next four years.)

“The Jealous campaign should cut this out now,” said Zirkin, who has not endorsed either candidate. “It is not appropriate. It is absolutely a false narrative.”

The Jealous campaign did not return a telephone message Tuesday seeking comment on Zirkin’s criticism.

Zirkin praised incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s two appointees to the Court of Appeals, Judges Michele D. Hotten and Joseph M. Getty, who both had broad bipartisan support. Regardless of who wins in November, Hogan will have a third pick, as Judge Sally D. Adkins has announced her retirement from the bench as of Oct. 31.

“The (Maryland) Judiciary has remained non-political – the way it should be,” said Zirkin, a practicing attorney. “For Jealous to make this an issue is irresponsible.”

Zirkin was joined in the criticism by attorney Timothy F. Maloney, a member of the Appellate Judicial Nominating Commission, which screens high-court candidates and recommends potential nominees to the governor.

“Maryland has been successful in protecting our high court nominations from the divisive politics that surround U.S. Supreme Court nominations,” Maloney stated in an email.

“All governors, including Larry Hogan and Martin O’Malley, have respected this important tradition,” Maloney said of the current chief executive and his Democratic predecessor. “Ben Jealous is trying to import the worst aspects of federal judicial selection into Maryland. This would be a tragedy.”

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