In September 2015, then-President Barack Obama nominated Stephanie Gallagher, a magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court of Maryland since 2011, to a vacancy on this court. Gallagher is an exceptionally qualified, moderate nominee whom Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both Democrats, powerfully supported. In May 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Gallagher without dissent.
Nonetheless, her nomination languished on the floor until Jan. 3 when her nomination expired, a result attributable to GOP obstruction in refusing to grant her a final debate and vote. Because Gallagher is an experienced, mainstream nominee and the District of Maryland requires all of its judges, President Trump must swiftly renominate and the Senate should promptly confirm the jurist.
The district currently experiences one opening in 10 active judgeships. This means that it must operate without 10 percent of the court’s active judicial complement, which frustrates prompt, inexpensive and fair case resolution. Deciding cases without one-tenth of the judgeships authorized concomitantly places greater pressure on the court’s jurists.
When, nearly two years ago, Obama nominated Gallagher, he praised her excellent career, proclaiming that she would be an outstanding public servant and a valuable addition to the court. The White House press release noted that Gallagher had served as a U.S. magistrate judge for the Maryland District since 2011, as an assistant U.S. attorney for six years and as a partner and associate at several highly respected law firms over numerous additional years.
The Judiciary Committee scheduled Gallagher’s hearing in April 2016. Mikulski and Cardin lauded Gallagher’s professional experience and called for swift upper-chamber review. That hearing proceeded smoothly, and the members who posited queries seemed pleased with Gallagher’s responses. In May 2016, the panel reported the nominee on a voice vote after little discussion and without controversy.
Gallagher’s nomination then languished, awaiting a confirmation debate and ballot. Republicans asserted that they were returning the Senate to “regular order.” However, Gallagher and numerous other highly competent, mainstream nominees waited months on debates and votes. The Maryland senators requested a swift floor ballot, yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would not arrange it. Democratic members actively sought unanimous consent to vote on Gallagher and 19 other District Court nominees who needed floor votes, but Republicans objected. On Jan. 3, the Senate adjourned without according any nominee a vote.
Gallagher can felicitously attain renomination and confirmation. Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who was elected in November after Mikulski’s retirement, should urge Trump to swiftly nominate Gallagher again, just as the chief executive recently renominated Judge David Nye and Dean Scott Palk, well qualified, mainstream Obama nominees who had enjoyed 2016 panel approval similar to Gallagher.
Gallagher is a strong, moderate nominee who has earned the Maryland senators’ support and merits appointment, and the court needs each of its active judges to promptly, inexpensively and fairly resolve cases.
Trump should expeditiously renominate Gallagher, and the Senate must promptly confirm her.
Carl Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond.