Give Judge Gallagher a final vote
On Sept. 8, 2015, President Barack Obama nominated Stephanie Gallagher, who has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the District of Maryland since 2011, for a vacancy on the district of Maryland. Judge Gallagher is a well-qualified, mainstream nominee who enjoys the powerful support of Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Judge Gallagher on Oct. 29 without dissent. However, the nomination has languished on the floor ever since, principally due to GOP leaders’ refusal to allow her confirmation debate and vote.
Because Judge Gallagher is an experienced, consensus nominee and the district of Maryland needs this vacancy filled, the Senate must promptly conduct her final debate and vote.
The district currently has one vacancy in10 active judgeships. This means that the court lacks 10 percent of its active judicial complement, which frustrates efforts to promptly, inexpensively and fairly resolve disputes. Because criminal prosecutions receive precedence under the Speedy Trial Act, litigants participating in civil suits experience difficulty securing trial dates and concluding their litigation. Deciding cases without a tenth of the judgeships authorized concomitantly places increased pressure on the court’s judges.
When President Obama nominated Judge Gallagher more than a year ago, he praised her excellent legal career, expressing confidence that she would be a distinguished public servant and a valuable addition to the court. The White House news release observed that Judge Gallagher had served as a Maryland magistrate judge for five years, as an assistant U.S. attorney for six years and as a partner and associate at several excellent law firms for numerous additional years.
However, the Judiciary Committee only conducted Judge Gallagher’s hearing on April 2, 2016. The Maryland senators introduced her at the session, praised her strong qualifications and called for prompt Senate confirmation. That hearing proceeded smoothly, and the senators who asked questions seemed satisfied with Judge Gallagher’s responses. On May 19, the panel approved her on a voice vote with little discussion and no controversy.
Since May, however, Judge Gallagher’s appointment has languished on the floor awaiting a final debate and vote. Senate GOP leaders have maintained that they are returning the upper chamber to “regular order.” Nonetheless, Judge Gallagher and many other highly qualified, moderate nominees have waited months for debates and votes. Senators Mikulski and Cardin have requested a prompt floor ballot, yet Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and the majority leader, has failed to arrange it. Several Democratic senators have sought unanimous consent to vote on Judge Gallagher and 18 remaining district nominees who also need final votes, but Republicans have objected. If the GOP follows regular order, Judge Gallagher will apparently receive a floor ballot soon. However, the Senate recently returned from its lengthy summer recess and could leave to campaign as early as this week.
It is past time for the Senate to vote on Stephanie Gallagher. She is a strong, consensus nominee whom both Maryland senators support. Moreover, the district must have all of its active judges to deliver justice. The district’s judiciary as well as individuals and businesses litigating in federal court deserve a full bench, while Judge Gallagher merits a final vote. Thus, senators must conduct Judge Gallagher’s debate and vote before they depart to campaign.