President Bush yesterday nominated Reed V. Hillman, a former State Police commander and an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, as US marshal for Massachusetts, but both US senators from the state immediately said they would oppose the nomination.
Kennedy said that he views the choice of Hillman as a political patronage appointment and that the position of marshal should go to a law enforcement professional of wide experience.
"I am disappointed that the president has chosen to move forward with the nomination of Reed Hillman, and I will be opposed," Kennedy said in a statement issued by his office. "It is important for our citizens to have confidence that political considerations are not unduly affecting law enforcement administration. Mr. Hillman does not meet the criteria."
A White House spokeswoman dismissed Kennedy's concerns. "All you have to do is look over his extensive experience in law enforcement to realize he is well suited for this position," Emily Lawrimore said. "He is extraordinarily qualified. The president would urge Senator Kennedy to meet with Mr. Hillman."
Senator John Kerry, like Kennedy a Democrat, said in a statement, "I will gladly join Senator Kennedy in opposing this terrible nomination."
Telephone messages left for Hillman were not returned yesterday.
The White House delivered a letter nominating Hillman to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Kennedy is a longtime member. If approved in committee, the nomination would require confirmation by the full Senate.
Traditionally, the marshal's job has gone to a prominent political figure from the same party as the president. The White House has usually allowed local political figures in the 94 marshal districts to reach a consensus on a candidate.
But Kennedy has advocated for what he has termed professionalizing the US Marshals Service, and last year he added a provision to the Patriot Act establishing criteria for marshals. According to the criteria, marshals must have experience in "command-level" management and experience protecting court personnel.
Hillman's credentials include rising through the ranks of the 2,500-member State Police to become the highest-ranking officer in a career of more than 25 years. He is also a lawyer.
Since retiring from the State Police in 1999, Hillman, 58, has been in politics. He represented Sturbridge in the Legislature for six years and last year ran on the Republican ticket for lieutenant governor with gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey.
Lawrimore said it would be unfortunate if Hillman's political activities hurt his chances to become marshal.
"He's a leader who wants to serve his community in another way," she said.
The Marshals Service is responsible for securing courthouses and protecting judges and other court officials, as well as witnesses. It also plays a role in capturing fugitives and transporting prisoners. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Marshals Service has played a central role in antiterrorism efforts.
In March, Kennedy foreshadowed his opposition to a politically driven appointment in a letter to Bush. "I understand you are currently considering potential nominees for [marshal], and I would like to work with you during this process," he wrote to Bush.
"It is important for the people to have confidence that political considerations are not unduly affecting law enforcement, and I look forward to hearing from you on how we can work together."
The Globe first reported that Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, submitted Hillman's name to the White House, along with four other names, in 2005.
Bush's previous nominee for US marshal in Massachusetts was Anthony Dichio, a former state trooper later dismissed by the president for neglect of duty. Governor Paul Cellucci, a Republican, sponsored Dichio, who had spent several years at Cellucci's side as part of a State Police detail assigned to drive the governor to appointments and provide security.
Bush dismissed Dichio in 2005, after the Globe documented his lax work habits and use of his government- owned vehicle for personal errands.
Dichio had been named to the $130,000-a-year position over the objections of the state's two senators and nine of its 10 House members, all of them Democrats. Critics said Dichio lacked experience in antiterrorism and management.
The Marshals Service -- which oversees security at courthouses in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield -- has been run by an acting marshal since 2005.
In March, US District Court Judge William Young blasted the service as a "second rate" agency because of political patronage appointees and called on Congress to professionalize the law enforcement agency.
Sean P. Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.