Carl Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond.
On June 7, President Trump nominated Stephanie Gallagher, who has served as a U.S. magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore since 2011, for a district vacancy on that court. This happened 21 months after former president Barack Obama nominated her to the same opening. Gallagher is a highly qualified, mainstream nominee who enjoyed the powerful support of former senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and current Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Gallagher in May 2016 without dissent. However, she languished when GOP leaders would not allow a confirmation debate and vote, and her nomination expired in January 2017. Because Gallagher is an experienced, consensus nominee and the District of Maryland requires this vacancy filled, the Senate must expeditiously confirm her.
The district presently encounters one vacancy in 10 active judgeships. This means the court operates without 10 percent of its active judicial complement, which can frustrate swift, economical and fair resolution of civil suits and impose enhanced pressure on the court’s members.
When Obama nominated Gallagher, he lauded her exceptional legal career, voicing confidence that she would continue being a distinguished public servant and a strong addition to the district’s active contingent. The White House statement observed that Gallagher had served as a magistrate judge for a half decade, an assistant U.S. Attorney for six years and a lawyer in multiple well-respected law firms for numerous years.
However, the committee only convened Gallagher’s hearing in April 2016. Mikulski and Cardin introduced her, recounted Gallagher’s superb qualifications and urged swift confirmation. That hearing progressed well, and the members posing questions appeared satisfied with her answers. On May 19, the committee reported Gallagher on a voice vote with minimal debate and no controversy.
After the panel approved Gallagher, she waited months on a ballot. Republicans claimed they were restoring the Senate to “regular order.” Nevertheless, Gallagher and numerous other well-qualified, moderate nominees languished months awaiting votes. Maryland’s senators sought rapid floor consideration, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) never set it. Democratic senators pursued unanimous consent to vote on Gallagher and many other district nominees, although GOP members refused to agree.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chair, should quickly process Gallagher. Because several new members joined the committee after 2016, Grassley may want to schedule an abbreviated hearing and a quick discussion and vote. Once Gallagher captures approval, McConnell should arrange a prompt floor debate and ballot.
More than a month ago, Trump astutely renominated Gallagher, an excellent, consensus nominee whom the Maryland senators avidly support. Because the district needs every active judge to deliver justice and Gallagher merits confirmation, the Senate must swiftly approve her.