Judge Rodney Smith – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

Judge Rodney Smith was the second African American judicial nominee to be sent forward by the Trump Administration when he was nominated back in May.  Now, as his nomination finally starts moving, Smith is poised to fill a long-pending vacancy on the court.

Background

A native Floridian, Rodney Smith was born in Orlando in 1974.  Smith graduated from Florida A&M University in 1996 and then from Michigan State University School of Law in 1999.[1]

After graduation, Smith joined the Miami-Dade County State’s Attorney’s Office, working as a prosecutor.[2]  In 2003, he moved briefly to the Office of the General Counsel at the United Automobile Insurance Company and then to the firm of McGrain Nosich & Ganz P.A.[3]  He left the firm a year later to join the Law Office of Rebecca W. Ribler as a Senior Trial Attorney.  In 2007, he shifted again to become Senior Assistant City Attorney for the City of Miami Beach.[4]

In 2008, Smith became a County Court Judge, appointed to the position by then-Republican Governor Charlie Crist.  In 2012, Smith was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to be a Circuit Court Judge on the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida, where he sits to this day.

History of the Seat

Smith has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  This seat opened on June 2, 2014, when Judge Robin Rosenbaum was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  On February 26, 2015, Mary Barzee Flores, a former state court judge in Florida, was nominated by President Obama for the vacancy.[5]  However, while Flores had been recommended for the vacancy by the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) formed by Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, Rubio refused to return a blue slip on Flores.[6]  Rubio’s stance was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats who described Flores as an “excellent judge.”[7]  Later, Rubio claimed that Flores had misrepresented her past support for the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations.[8]  With Rubio’s opposition, Flores never got a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was not confirmed before the end of the Obama Administration.

In October 2017, Smith applied and interviewed with the JNC.  The JNC chose Smith as one of ten finalists to be passed onto the Senators.[9]  After interviews with Rubio and Nelson, Smith interviewed with the White House Counsel’s Office and the Department of Justice.  Smith was formally nominated on May 8, 2018.

Legal Career

Smith began his legal career as a state prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, where he served as the Chief of the Juvenile Division and worked in the Career Criminal/Robbery Division.[10]  As the former, Smith was able to secure a conviction against a defendant who emotionally and sexually abused his step-daughter, even though the child’s mother testified against her.[11]

From 2003 to 2007, Smith worked in private practice.  While working for Rebecca Ribler, Smith defended a case against a plaintiff who broke her hip slipping and falling while exiting the defendant’s restaurant.[12]

From 2007 to 2008, Smith worked as Senior Assistant City Attorney in Miami Beach, defending the city against litigation while also prosecuting ordinance violations.  During his time at the office, Smith successfully obtained summary judgment against a plaintiff who had been rendered a quadriplegic after diving into the ocean and striking a rock.[13]

Jurisprudence

Smith served as a County Court Judge in Florida from 2008 to 2012 and has served as a Circuit Judge since 2012.  In the former capacity, Smith heard criminal misdemeanor and traffic matters, civil protective orders, and landlord-tenant and small claims litigation.  As a Circuit Judge, Smith handles major felonies and any civil cases with more than $15000 in controversy.

Over his ten year tenure on state court, Smith has heard approximately 700 cases.  Of these, approximately 3% have been reversed by a higher court, a relatively low reversal rate.[14]  Of the cases in which Smith has been reversed, approximately one in five involved a confession of error by the prevailing party.[15]

Overall Assessment

Smith is a relatively uncontroversial choice for the federal bench.  His judicial record is fairly mainstream and he has not made any controversial statements or actions in his career.  Additionally, his record as a lawyer is fairly varied and it is hard to argue that Smith lacks the ability to be a district court judge.  As such, Smith will likely be confirmed with bipartisan support.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Rodney Smith: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Press Release, Obama White House Archives, President Obama Nominates Two to Serve on the United States District Courts (Feb. 26, 2015).

[6] Jay Weaver, Rubio Holds Up Obama Nominee He Once Backed for Miami Federal Bench, Miami Herald, Feb. 28, 2016, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article63008137.html.  

[7] See id. (quoting Tom Spencer).

[8] Marc Caputo and Seung Min Kim, Rubio Breaks Silence on Female Judge, Politico, June 9, 2016, https://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/marco-rubio-judge-mary-barzee-flores-224073.  

[9] David Markus, Breaking — JNC Makes the Cut to 10 Finalists for District Judge, Southern District of Florida Blog, Nov. 29, 2017, http://sdfla.blogspot.com/2017/11/breaking-jnc-makes-cut-to-10-finalists.html.

[10] See Smith, supra n. 1 at 46.

[11] State v. Yanes, No. F01-029698, aff’d, 865 So.2d 507 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003).

[12] O’Brien v. GMRI, Inc. d/b/a Bahama Breeze, Case No. 04-23037 CA 20.

[13] Downs v. City of Miami Beach, et al., Case No. 04-08735 CA 15 and Case No. 06-20861 CIV-HUCK/BANDSTRA, aff’d, 13 So.3d 1064 (Fla. 3d DCA 2009).

[14] See Smith, supra n. 1 at 38.

[15] Id. at 37-41.

Allison Rushing – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

At just 36 years old, Allison Jones Rushing is the youngest nominee Trump has put forward so far to an appellate seat.  While Rushing has a stellar resume, her youth will likely raise concerns in the confirmation process.

Background

Rushing was born Allison Blair Jones in Hendersonville, North Carolina in 1982.  She received a B.A. summa cum laude from Wake Forest University in 2002 and a J.D. magna cum laude from the Duke University School of Law in 2007.  As a law student, Rushing worked as a summer intern at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) (now Alliance Defending Freedom).[1]  ADF has drawn controversy for its advocacy involving “religious freedom” and has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[2]

After graduating, Rushing clerked for then-Judge Neil Gorsuch on the Tenth Circuit, Judge David Sentelle on the D.C. Circuit, and for Justice Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court, with a short stint as an Associate at Williams & Connolly in between.[3]

After her clerkships, Rushing rejoined the D.C. office of Williams & Connolly as an Associate.  In 2016, Rushing became a Partner at the firm, where she continues to serve.

History of the Seat

Rushing has been nominated to replace U.S. Circuit Judge Allyson Kay Duncan, who has indicated her intention to move to senior status upon the confirmation of her successor.  In June 2018, shortly after Duncan announced her departure, Rushing was contacted by the White House to gauge her interest in an appointment to the Fourth Circuit.[4]  After an interview, Rushing was informed by the White House that she would be nominated.[5]  Rushing was officially nominated on August 27, 2018.

Legal Experience

Other than her clerkships, Rushing has spent her legal career at the firm of Williams & Connolly, specifically focusing on appellate and commercial litigation.  Over the course of her career, Rushing has handled four trials in federal district court as well as over 47 briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court.[6]  In her litigation work, she has frequently collaborated with Williams & Connolly partner Kannon Shanmugam, himself a famous conservative attorney.

Among her more prominent clients, Rushing has represented the Bank of America corporation,[7] KPMG,[8] Ernst & Young,[9] and Eli Lilly.[10]  Rushing also represented Jesse Litvak, a bond trader convicted of securities fraud based on statements he had made during negotiations, on appeal, successfully reversing the convictions on the basis that Litvak’s misstatements were immaterial.[11]  Rushing also represented the New York City Council Black, Latino and Asian Caucus as amicus in a case involving New York City’s policy of preventing worship services in schools.[12]

Writings

As a law student, Rushing authored an article discussing the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which bars lower federal courts from reviewing state court judgments.[13]  In the paper, Rushing outlines the doctrine, as well as changes to its contours in later decisions such as Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., which clarified that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar “parallel suits.”[14]

Political Activity & Membersips

Rushing has been a member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies since 2012.[15]  Rushing also served as a legal advisor in the Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign, to which she also donated $500.[16]

On the flip side, Rushing campaigned for Democratic Maryland Delegate Sam Arora, a former aide to Senator Hillary Clinton.[17]

Overall Assessment

With her hearing today, Rushing is on track to be the  youngest appellate judge confirmed since Alex Kozinski was appointed in 1985.  As such, it is likely that much of the debate around Rushing will revolve around her qualifications and experience.

While Rushing falls narrowly short of the American Bar Association’s twelve years of practice requirement, she was nonetheless rated “Qualified” by the group.[18]  This is likely a testament to Rushing’s substantial litigation experience, including extensive practice in the courts of appeals.

However, this does not mean that no questions can be raised about Rushing’s background.  Specifically, North Carolina lawyers might question Rushing’s connection with the court and the state that she will be serving.  While Rushing is a native North Carolinian, she has not practiced law in the state since law school, is not a member of the North Carolina bar, and, according to her firm biography, is not admitted to practice in the Fourth Circuit, the court to which she has been appointed.[19]

Given these factors and her relative youth, many will argue that there are many more qualified and experienced candidates for this vacancy.  However, the ultimate question around Rushing, as around any other nominee, is not whether she is the “most qualified” candidate, but rather, whether she meets the requisite levels of qualifications to be an appellate judge.  As Rushing’s intellect and legal ability are unquestioned, how senators vote will ultimately depend on which factors they consider in answering that question.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Congress, Allison Jones Rushing: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] See Southern Poverty Law Center, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/alliance-defending-freedom (last visited Oct. 17, 2018).

[3] See Rushing, supra n. 1 at 2.

[4] Id. at 28.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 13-14.

[7] See United States ex rel. O’Donnell v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 83 F. Supp. 3d 528 (S.D.N.Y. 2015).

[8] See Certain Funds, Accounts and/or Inv. Vehicles v. KPMG, LLP, 798 F.3d 113 (2d Cir. 2015).

[9] Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018).

[10] See Eli Lilly & Co. v. Teva Parenteral Medicines, Inc., 845 F.3d 1357 (Fed. Cir. 2017).

[11] See United States v. Litvak, 889 F.3d 56 (2d Cir. 2018) and 808 F.3d 160 (2d Cir. 2015).

[12] The Bronx Household of Faith et al. v. Bd. of Educ. of the City of New York, 750 F.3d 184 (2d Cir. 2014).

[13] Allison B. Jones, The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine: What Does It Mean to be Inextricably Intertwined, 56 Duke L.J. 643 (Nov. 2006).

[14] Id. at 658-59.

[15] See Rushing, supra n. 1 at 5.

[17] See Rushing, supra n. 1 at 10.

[18] See American Bar Association, Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/uncategorized/GAO/Web%20rating%20Chart%20Trump%20115.pdf (last visited Oct. 17, 2018).

[19] See Williams & Connolly, Allison Rushing, https://www.wc.com/Attorneys/Allison-Jones-Rushing (last visited Oct. 17, 2018).

Judge Rossie Alston – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

Judge Rossie Alston, who currently serves on the Virginia Court of Appeals, has had his share of messy confirmation battles.  Three years ago, his confirmation to the Virginia Supreme Court was derailed by a power struggle between the Virginia legislature and Governor Terry McAuliffe.  This time around, his nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is likely to yield more success.

Background

Rossie David Alston Jr. was born in Washington D.C. on May 31, 1957.  He attended Averett College (now University) in Southern Virginia, graduating cum laude in 1979 and then received a J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 1982.[1]

After graduation, Alston worked as a Staff Attorney at the National Labor Relations Board and then joined the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, where he worked for five years as a Staff Attorney.[2]  In 1992, Alston joined Smith, Hudson, Hammond and Alston in Manassas as a Name Partner.[3]

In 1998, Alston was appointed to the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court in Prince William County.[4]  Three years later, he was selected to be a Circuit Court judge in Prince William County.[5]

In 2005, Alston applied for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, but was not selected as the top candidate by the State Bar (who chose magistrate judge Liam O’Grady and litigator Anthony Trenga).[6]  Alston was still one of five candidates recommended for the seat by Virginia’s Republican Senators (O’Grady was ultimately chosen).[7]

In 2009, Alston was selected by the Virginia General Assembly to join the Virginia Court of Appeals, replacing Judge Jean Harrison Clements.[8]

In 2015, Alston was part of a tangle over a Supreme Court appointment between Gov. Terry McAuliffe and General Assembly leaders.  McAuliffe appointed Judge Jane Roush, a well-respected Fairfax County Judge, to the Virginia Supreme Court upon the recommendation of Del. Dave Albo, a Republican.[9]  However, Republican leaders in the Assembly protested the nomination, claiming that they were not adequately consulted, and instead announced plans to elevate Alston to the seat.[10]  After the Virginia House ignored Roush’s nomination and elected Alston, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected his nomination on a 20-20 tie after Republican Sen. John Watkins voted with all Democrats against Alston.[11]

Republicans tried to move Alston again after Watkins’ retirement, but Sen. Glen Sturtevant, who replaced Watkins, indicated his opposition to Alston.[12]  After two African American Democrats both reneged on deals to support Alston, Republicans dropped plans to elevate him, and his colleague, Judge Steven McCullough, was elevated instead.

Alston continues to serve on the Virginia Court of Appeals.

History of the Seat

Alston has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.  This seat opened on September 30, 2017, when Judge Gerald Bruce Lee moved to senior status.  Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, recommended Alston alongside federal prosecutor Patricia Giles in December 2017.[13]  Alston was nominated on June 18, 2018.[14]

Legal Experience

Alston started his legal career working as a labor attorney, first at the National Labor Relations Board and then at the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to counter union activities.  From 1989 to 1998, Alston worked in private practice, handling criminal defense, plaintiff’s side civil litigation, and domestic matters.

Some of the clients Alston represented include a woman charged with the death of a toddler scalded with hot bath water,[15] a teen who killed his stepfather to protect his mother from physical abuse,[16] and a driver convicted of reckless driving for participating in a road duel.[17]  Alston was also part of the legal team suing on behalf of the parents of a 13-month-old baby that fell through a window screen and sustained serious injuries.[18]  Alston was able to obtain a $15 million judgment, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.[19]

Jurisprudence

Alston has served as a judge in Virginia for approximately twenty years, starting as a Juvenile & Domestic Relations Judge in Prince William County in 1998, becoming a Circuit Court Judge in 2001, and being elected by the Virginia Assembly to the Court of Appeals in 2009.

Circuit Court Judge

From 2001 to 2009, Alston served as a Circuit Court Judge in Prince William County, where he presided over civil and criminal cases.[20]  On the Circuit Court, Alston developed a reputation for creative sentencing, including imposing “community service and symbolic jail time.”[21]  In one notable case, Alston presided over the trial of a community leader charged with leaving his toddler in a hot car.[22]  The jury found the father guilty and recommended 12 months in jail.[23]  However, Alston gave the father seven years of probation, ordering the father to spend his deceased daughter’s birthday in jail and donate blood on that day for the next seven years.[24]  In so ruling, Alston emphasized that the defendant “was a good man who loved his family and his church.”[25]

Court of Appeals

From 2009 onwards, Alston has served on the Virginia Court of Appeals, one level before the Virginia Supreme Court.  In his time on the court, Alston authored over 200 majority opinions, establishing a largely conservative record.  For example, Alston held, shortly after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Obergefell, that cohabitation under Virginia law did not apply to same-sex couples, a decision that was reversed by the Virginia Supreme Court.[26]  In another case, Alston held that making an unsignaled left turn could be grounds for a valid traffic stop by a police car, even if there was no other traffic in the vicinity.[27]

Reversals

Over his twenty years on the bench, Alston’s rulings have been reversed by higher courts eleven times.[28]  Of these reversals, the most significant is in Luttrell v. Cuoco.[29]  Luttrell involved a ruling from a Fairfax judge that a man had to continue to pay alimony to his ex-wife even though his wife was now cohabiting with her female partner.[30]  Alston wrote for the Virginia Court of Appeals in holding that, under Virginia’s alimony law, cohabitation could only be between a man and a woman.[31]  The Virginia Supreme Court reversed, finding that a 1997 amendment expanded the definition of cohabitation to include same-sex couples.[32]

Interestingly, Alston has been reversed four times in cases where he ruled in favor of defendants or against law enforcement.[33]  In contrast, Alston has never had a conviction before him reversed and has only had a sentence before him reversed once.[34]

Writings or Comments

In his testimony as a nominee to the Virginia Supreme Court, Alston was asked if businesses should be permitted to turn away LGBT customers based on the business owner’s religious beliefs.[35]  Alston responded:

“There is no reason whatsoever why any person in the United States of America should be denied equal privileges that we all enjoy under the law.”[36]

Senator Don McEachin, a Virginia Democrat, interpreted Alston’s testimony as a rebuke to Virginia Republicans, who were then attempting to pass “religious liberty” laws that would permit such discrimination.[37]

Overall Assessment

While Alston’s elevation to the Virginia Supreme Court may have been entangled in politics, his path to the federal bench looks much smoother.  As Alston has already gotten the sign-off of Virginia’s Democratic senators, it is unlikely that his conservative-leaning jurisprudence would keep many Democrats from backing him.  As such, it is more a question of when, rather than if, Alston will be confirmed.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Rossie D. Alston Jr.: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. 

[4] Leef Smith, Judge is Sworn In for Juvenile Court; Alston Takes Over Bench of the Late Patrick Molinari, Wash. Post, Oct. 10, 1998.

[5] See Alston, supra n. 1 at 2.

[6] Alan Cooper, Ney, Wetsel Backed by 4 Bars for VA Appeals Court, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Dec. 26, 2005.

[7] Alan Cooper, U.S. Senators John W. Warner and George Allen Name Alexandria Federal Nominees, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, May 8, 2006.

[8] Alan Cooper, Alston Elected to Virginia Court of Appeals, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Feb. 11, 2009.

[9] Peter Vieth, Va. GOP Leaders Favor Alston Over Roush for Supreme Court, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Aug. 3, 2015.

[10] See id.

[11] BIDS, In Vote on SC Justice, GOP’s John Watkins Unites With Democrats, Legal Monitor Worldwide, Aug. 18, 2015.

[12] Jim Nolan, Sturtevant Backs Keeping Roush on Supreme Court, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan. 16, 2016, https://www.richmond.com/news/sturtevant-backs-keeping-roush-on-supreme-court/article_b67927be-51f5-5a98-ba90-35e4c60ff314.html.  

[13] Press Release, Office of Sen. Mark Warner, Warner & Kaine Recommend Two for Vacancy On U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (Dec. 21, 2017) (available at https://www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2017/12/warner-kaine-recommend-two-for-vacancy-on-u-s-district-court-for-the-eastern-district-of-virginia).  

[14] Press Release, White House, President Donald J. Trump Announces Fifteenth Wave of Judicial Candidates, Fourteenth Wave of United States Attorney Nominees, and Ninth Wave of United States Marshall Nominees (June 7, 2018) (on file at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office).  

[15] See Leef Smith, Autopsy: Girl’s Scalding Intentional, Wash. Post, July 11, 1998.

[16] Avis Thomas-Lister, Teen to be Tried as Juvenile in Stepfather’s Slaying; Pr. William Youth, 15, Testifies in Hearing He Feared Abuse of Mother, Siblings, Wash. Post, June 5, 1991.

[17] Leef Smith, Driver Sentenced in Road Duel That Nearly Killed Va. Child, Wash. Post, Apr. 5, 1997.

[18] Gamble v. Jeld-Wen Inc., No. 138861 (chancery), Fairfax Cnty. Circuit Court, 1997.

[19] Jeld-Win Inc. v. Gamble, 256 Va. 144 (1998).

[20] See Alston, supra n. 1 at 20.

[21] See Josh White, Father Should Go to Jail for Death, Va. Jury Says, Wash. Post, Dec. 5, 2002. 

[22] Commonwealth v. Kelly, No. CR05053304-00 (Cir. Ct. Feb. 21, 2003).

[23] See White, supra n. 21.

[24] Sean O’Driscoll, Father Receives Sentence for Death of Child, Irish Times, Feb. 22, 2003.

[25] See id.

[26] See Luttrell v. Cuoco, 2016 Va. LEXIS 57 (April 28, 2016).

[27] Deborah Elkins, Court Upholds Stop for No-Signal Turn, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Mar. 6, 2015 (citing Wilson v. Commonwealth).

[28] See Commonwealth v. Wiggins, 2017 Va. Unpub. LEXIS 28 (Mar. 13, 2017) (reversing finding that possessing a loaded gun does not constitute felony child neglect); Cole v. Commonwealth, 2017 Va. LEXIS 162 (Nov. 16, 2017) (reversing finding that Court of Appeals did not possess the authority to decide pre-trial issues in appeal); Luttrell v. Cuoco, 2016 Va. LEXIS 57 (April 28, 2016) (holding that Virginia cohabitation statute includes same-sex couples); Commonwealth v. Quarles, 283 Va. 214 (2012) (reversing holding that investigating detective had impermissibly restarted communication after defendant requested counsel); Simms v. Ruby Tuesday, Inc., 281 Va. 114 (2011) (reaffirming validity of “horseplay doctrine”);  Royal Indem. Co. v. Tyco Fire Prods, LP, 281 Va. 157 (2011) (reversing ruling that statute of limitations precluded negligence claims); Commonwealth v. Andrews, 280 Va. 231 (2010) (reversing sentencing due to allowing improper victim testimony); Woods v. Mendez, 265 Va. 68 (2010) (reversing dismissal of claim for punitive damages); Ervin v. Commonwealth, 57 Va. App. 495 (2011) (en banc) (reversing panel decision that defendant did not exercise dominion and control over marijuana in his vehicle); Kapur v. Kapur, 2009 Va. App. LEXIS 234 (May 19, 2009) (reversing sanctions issued against husband in divorce case); Commonwealth v. Marek, 2003 Va. App. LEXIS 46 (Feb. 5, 2003) (reversing grant of motion to suppress).

[29]  2016 Va. LEXIS 57 (April 28, 2016).

[30] See id. See also Tom Jackman, Va. High Court Limits Spousal Support, Wash. Post, May 3, 2016.

[31] See Jackman, supra n. 31.

[32] Id.

[33]  See Commonwealth v. Wiggins, 2017 Va. Unpub. LEXIS 28 (Mar. 13, 2017); Commonwealth v. Quarles, 283 Va. 214 (2012); Ervin v. Commonwealth, 57 Va. App. 495 (2011) (en banc); Commonwealth v. Marek, 2003 Va. App. LEXIS 46 (Feb. 5, 2003).  

[34] See Commonwealth v. Andrews, 280 Va. 231 (2010).

[36] Id. (quoting Judge Rossie Alston).

[37] Brad Kutner, Senator Don McEachin Talks LGBTQ Issues Ahead of the 2016 General Assembly Session, GayRVA, Aug. 26, 2015, http://www.gayrva.com/news-views/senator-don-mceachin-talks-lgbtq-issues-ahead-of-the-2016-general-assembly-session/.  

Eric Murphy – Nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Eric Murphy was not even thirty-five when he was selected to be Ohio’s top appellate attorney.  Now, still shy of forty, Murphy has been nominated to a lifetime appointment to the Sixth Circuit.  However, Murphy’s nomination is strongly opposed by Sen. Sherrod Brown, his home-state senator.

Background

Eric Earl Murphy was born in Indianapolis in 1979.  Murphy received his B.A. from Miami University in 2001 and his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 2005.[1]  He clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and then for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.[2]

After his clerkships, Murphy joined the Columbus office of Jones Day as an Associate.[3]  In 2013, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine selected Murphy as the new Solicitor General for the state, replacing Alexandra Schimmer.[4]  He serves in that position today.

History of the Seat

Murphy has been nominated for an Ohio seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Judge Alice Batchelder has indicated that she will vacate the seat upon the confirmation of a successor.

In September 2017, Murphy reached out to the White House Counsel’s Office to express his interest in a judicial appointment.[5]  After interviews with the White House, Murphy interviewed with Brown and Republican Senator Rob Portman in late 2017.  He was officially nominated on June 18, 2018.[6]   Notably, Brown has indicated his strong opposition to Murphy’s nomination and has indicated that he will not return a blue slip.[7]

Political Activity

Murphy has a relatively limited political history, having served as part of the local Republican Party chapter as a college student and having volunteered for DeWine in the 2000 elections.[8]

Private Practice

After his clerkships, Murphy worked in the Columbus office (alongside fellow nominee Chad Readler) as an Associate in the Issues and Appeals section.  In this role, Murphy handled appeals in state and federal court, representing a variety of corporate clients, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Goodyear Tires, and Procter & Gamble.[9]  Notably, Murphy represented the Washington Legal Foundation, a free-market conservative organization, in arguing that the First Amendment permits promoting a prescription drug for an off-label use, successfully getting a conviction overturned.[10]

Solicitor General

Since 2013, Murphy has served as the Solicitor General of Ohio, representing Ohio before state and appellate panels, defending state laws, and pushing for conservative legal outcomes in other cases.  In his five years as Solicitor General, Murphy has argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.[11]  He has also filed four amicus briefs as counsel of record and has participated at the certiorari level in over eighty additional cases.[12]  We have highlighted some of the key positions he took as Solicitor General.

False Speech in Advertising

Murphy’s first argued case before the Supreme Court was Susan B. Anthony List v. Dreihaus.  The case involved a challenge by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, to an Ohio law criminalizing the use of “false statements” in political advertising.  After a lower court held that the SBA List could not challenge the law for lack of standing, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and Murphy defended the law.  The Supreme Court unanimously held against Murphy’s position and found that the SBA List could challenge the law under the First Amendment.[13]

Death Penalty Protocol

In 2016, prisoners challenged Ohio’s three-drug protocol for executions, and its use of the drug Midzolam.[14]  After the District Court granted an injunction against the protocol, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, Murphy was able to convince an en banc seating of the Sixth Circuit to reverse.[15]

Same Sex Marriage

As Solicitor General, Murphy led the defense of Ohio’s ban on same sex marriage, consolidated with the bans in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan.[16]  Murphy defended the bans before the Sixth Circuit, arguing that gay marriage was an issue for voters, not the courts.[17]  However, the Supreme Court ultimately rejected Murphy’s position, holding that same sex marriage bans violate the Constitution.[18]

Restrictions on Voting

As Solicitor General, Murphy led the defense of Ohio voting restrictions, including two prominent cases that involved the Supreme Court.  The first case involved a challenge to the reduction of Ohio’s early voting period from 35 days to 28.[19]  Murphy defended the restrictions, successfully reinstating them before the Sixth Circuit after the District Court struck them down.[20]  The Supreme Court denied a stay.

The second case was a challenge under the National Voter Registration Act to Ohio’s practice of purging voters from the rolls after a two-year inactive period of voting.[21]  After the District Court permitted the practice, a panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.  Murphy argued the case before the Supreme Court, which reversed 5-4.[22]

Overall Assessment

Murphy has accomplished a lot given his relative youth.  Despite barely meeting the 12 years of practice criteria set by the American Bar Association, it is hard to argue that Murphy is not qualified for the appellate bench.

However, this does not mean that Murphy will be deemed a “consensus” nominee.  Murphy has been advanced without the support of his home-state senator, which automatically puts a nominee at risk of opposition.  Additionally, Murphy’s record as Solicitor General can be characterized as constituting conservative activism.  Murphy’s defense of Ohio voting restrictions and same-sex marriage ban will be particularly scrutinized.

At the same time, Solicitors General and Attorneys General have a responsibility to defend their state statutes and policies, provided that there is a reasonable defense.  Murphy’s supporters can point to his defense of the Ohio “false statements” law, challenged by conservative groups, to argue that Murphy’s top priority is the law, rather than ideology.

Overall, given Senate Republicans’ abandonment of the “blue slip” policy for appellate nominees, Murphy will likely be confirmed.  However, he is unlikely to get the support of many, if any Democrats, in that process.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Eric E. Murphy: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See Murphy, supra n. 1 at 47.

[6] Press Release, White House, President Donald J. Trump Announces Eleventh Wave of Judicial Candidates (Feb. 15, 2017) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office).

[7] Press Release, Office of Sen. Sherrod Brown, Brown Will Not Support Judge Nominees Who Worked to Strip Ohioans of Their Rights (June 8, 2018) (on file at https://www.brown.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/brown-will-not-support-judge-nominees-who-worked-to-strip-ohioans-of-their-rights).

[8] See Murphy, supra n. 1 at 14-15.

[9] See Murphy, supra n. 1 at 16-17.

[10] See United States v. Caronia, 703 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2012).

[11] See Ohio v. Am. Express Co., 138 S. Ct. 2274 (2018); Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Inst., 138 S. Ct. 1833 (2018); Nat’l Ass’n of Mfrs. v. Dep’t of Def., 138 S. Ct. 617 (2018); Sheriff v. Gillie, 136 S. Ct. 1594 (2016); Susan B. Anthony List v. Dreihaus, 134 S. Ct. 2334 (2014).

[12] See Murphy, supra n. 1 at 19-24.

[13] Susan B. Anthony List v. Dreihaus, 134 S. Ct. 2334 (2014).

[14] In re Ohio Execution Protocol, 860 F.3d 881 (6th Cir. 2017) (en banc).

[15] Id. 

[16] DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014).

[17] Robert Barnes, Gay-Marriage Backers Meet a Skeptical Court, Wash. Post, Aug. 7, 2014.

[18] Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015).

[19] Ohio Democratic Party v. Husted, 834 F.3d 620 (6th Cir. 2016); Husted v. Ohio State Conference of the NAACP, 135 S. Ct. 42 (2014).

[20] Id. 

[21] Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Inst., 138 S. Ct. 1833 (2018).

[22] Id.

Ten Upcoming Judicial Nomination Battles

This week, Justice Brett Kavanaugh sat for his first arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court.  His path to those arguments, however, left countless Americans angry and relations between the two parties at a new low.  Unfortunately, the fight over the judiciary has not ended with Kavanaugh’s confirmation.  Instead, it has returned to a familiar front: lower court nominations.  With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushing for the confirmation of over thirty pending lower court nominations on the Senate Executive Calendar, many more confrontations are upcoming.  Below, we highlight ten nominees currently pending on the Senate floor who are expected to cause controversy, ranked in order from least to most likely to trigger a fight.  (All ten nominees passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on 11-10 party-line votes)

10. Cam Barker – Eastern District of Texas

John Campbell “Cam” Barker, the 38-year-old Deputy Solicitor General of Texas, has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.  As Deputy Solicitor General, Barker joined efforts by Attorney General Ken Paxton to challenge Obama Administration initiatives and protect Trump Administration efforts.  In his three years in that position, Barker litigated the challenge (alongside now-Fifth Circuit Judge Andy Oldham) against the Obama Administration’s DAPA initiatives on immigration, defended Texas’ restrictive voter id laws, and sought in intervene in support of President Trump’s travel bans.  Barker also litigated to crack down on “sanctuary cities” in Texas, challenged the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and helped to defend HB2, restrictions on women’s reproductive rights struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellersdedt.

In responding to questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barker argued that his work at the Solicitor General’s Office represented positions “of my clients, as opposed to my personal positions.”  Nevertheless, Democrats have argued that Barker’s work reflects a conservative ideology that is likely to tilt his judicial rulings.

9. Stephen Clark – Eastern District of Missouri 

Stephen Robert Clark Sr. is the founder and managing partner of the Runnymede Law Group in St. Louis, Missouri.  Clark has advocated extensively for pro-life groups and causes, and has statements on record criticizing Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood, and same-sex marriage.  For example, Clark advocated for medical schools to stop partnering with Planned Parenthood, suggesting that the schools were “training the abortionists of the future.”

Unlike the other nominees on this list, Clark did have a blue slip returned from the Democratic home-state senator, namely Sen. Claire McCaskill.  Nevertheless, Clark was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 11-10 vote, with all Democrats opposed.  His nomination is expected to draw opposition from pro-choice and reproductive rights organizations.

8. Justice Patrick Wyrick – Western District of Oklahoma

The 37-year-old Wyrick made waves in 2017 when he became the youngest candidate to be added to the Trump Administration’s Supreme Court shortlist.  Wyrick, who currently serves on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, built up a record of aggressive litigation as Oklahoma Solicitor General under then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt.  His nomination to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 2017 was itself controversial due to Wyrick’s purported lack of ties to the Second District, the District from which he was appointed.

Since his nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Wyrick has been criticized for his relative youth, lack of experience, and alleged ethical issues from his time as Solicitor General.  Specifically, two incidents have been raised.  First, while defending Oklahoma’s death penalty protocol in Glossip v. Gross, Wyrick’s office mis-cited the recipient of a letter sent to the Texas Department of Corrections in their brief and was forced to issue a letter of correction.  Additionally, Wyrick was directly called out in oral argument by Justice Sonia Sotomayor for mis-citing scientific evidence.  Second, Wyrick had engaged in communications with Devon Energy, an energy company whose lobbyist had ghost-written letters sent out by Attorney General Scott Pruitt.  The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has alleged that Wyrick was aware and potentially complicit in the ghost-writing.

7. Mark Norris – Western District of Tennessee

The 63-year-old Norris currently serves as the Majority Leader in the Tennessee State Senate.  His nomination is one of the longest pending before the U.S. Senate, having been submitted on July 13, 2017.  Norris has twice been voted out of the Judiciary Committee on party-line votes, with Democrats objecting to his conservative record in the Tennessee State Senate.  In particular, they note that Norris pushed to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Tennessee, suggesting that it would allow “potential terrorists” to enter the state.  For his part, Norris has argued that his work in the Tennessee State Senate was on behalf of his constituents, and that it would not animate his work on the bench.

6. Wendy Vitter – Eastern District of Louisiana

The general counsel to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese (and the wife of former Senator David Vitter), Wendy Vitter has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  Vitter drew criticism at her hearing for refusing to say that the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided (a decision this blog noted at the time could be justified).  Vitter has also drawn sharp criticism for her pro-life and anti-birth control activism, including her apparent endorsement of the views of Angela Lanfranchi, who has suggested that taking birth control increases women’s chances of being unfaithful and dying violently.

5. Howard Nielson – District of Utah

The son of a former Congressman, Howard C. Nielson Jr. has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah despite being based at Cooper & Kirk in Washington D.C.  Nielson has two powerful Judiciary Committee members in his corner, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee.  Nevertheless, Nielson has faced strong opposition based on his work in the Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush.  Specifically, Democrats have objected to Nielson’s alleged involvement in the approval of the controversial memos that justified the use of torture.  In his defense, Republicans have argued that Nielson was not involved in the drafting of the memos and worked to get them rescinded.  Democrats also object to Nielson’s work defending Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that revoked the right of same-sex couples to marry.  In particular, LGBT groups have complained that Nielson tried to move for the presiding judge in the case, Judge Vaughn Walker, to recuse himself based on the judge’s sexual orientation.

4. Ryan Nelson – Ninth Circuit

The General Counsel for Melaleuca, Inc. in Idaho Falls, Nelson’s nomination to be Solicitor of the Department of the Interior was pending when he was tapped for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Nelson has drawn critical questions from Committee Democrats regarding his work at Melaleuca, particularly focused on his filing of defamation actions against Mother Jones for their work investigating Melaleuca Founder Frank Vandersloot.  The lawsuit against Mother Jones has drawn criticism for chilling First Amendment rights and trying to silence investigative journalism.

3. Matthew Kacsmaryk – Northern District of Texas

Kacsmaryk, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, currently serves as Deputy General Counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a non-profit firm focused on cases involving “religious freedom.”  In his role, Kacsmaryk has been particularly active on LGBT rights issues, challenging the Obama Administration’s efforts to ban discrimination against LGBT employees by government contractors, and its initiatives on transgender rights in public schools.  In his writings, Kacsmaryk has criticized same-sex marriage alongside no-fault divorce, the decriminalization of consensual pre-marital sex, and contraception as weakening the “four pillars” of marriage.  He has also lobbied for legislation exempting individuals had religious beliefs or moral convictions condemning homosexuality from civil rights enforcement.  Kacsmaryk’s advocacy has drawn the strong opposition of LGBT rights groups.

2. David Porter – Third Circuit

A Pittsburgh-based attorney, Porter was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit over the express opposition of home state senator Bob Casey.  As Republicans processed Porter over Casey’s objection, Democrats raised both procedural and substantive objections to Porter, including his writings urging the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and his previous advocacy against the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  In his own statement, Casey pulled no punches, stating that Porter had “an ideology that will serve only the wealthy and powerful as opposed to protecting the rights of all Americans.”

1. Thomas Farr – Eastern District of North Carolina

Perhaps no lower court nominee has incited as much anger as Farr, the Raleigh based litigator tapped for the longest pending federal judicial vacancy in the country.  Farr had previously been tapped for this seat in the Bush Administration but was blocked from a final vote by the then-Democratic-controlled Senate.  Through the Obama Administration, this seat was held over by Sen. Richard Burr’s refusal to return blue slips on two African American nominees, including one recommended by him.

Since Farr’s renomination by Trump, he has faced opposition from civil rights groups, including one who has referred to him as a “product of the modern white supremacist machine.”  At issue is Farr’s representation of the North Carolina legislature as it passed a series of restrictive voting laws with a disproportionate impact on minority communities.  Many of these restrictions were struck down by the Fourth Circuit, which noted that the laws targeted African Americans with “surgical precision.”  Additionally, Farr has been charged with sending out thousands of postcards to African American voters in 1990 threatening to have them arrested if they voted.  (Farr has denied this latter charge, arguing that he was unaware that the postcards had been sent out.)  With Democrats and civil rights groups convinced that Farr worked to disenfranchise African Americans, and Republicans equally passionate in their support, Farr’s ultimate confirmation is sure to draw a level of intensity that district court judges rarely evoke.

 

Sarah Morrison – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio

A prominent labor and worker’s compensation attorney from Columbus, Sarah Morrison is favored to short-handed bench where she would become the only active female judge.

Background

Morrison was born Sarah Elizabeth Daggett in Lufkin, TX on November 12, 1970.[1]  Morrison received her B.A. from Ohio State University in 1992 and her J.D. magna cum laude from Capital University Law School in 1997.[2]  Following her graduation, Morrison clerked for Judge John Holschuh on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.[3]

After her clerkship, Morrison joined the Columbus office of Chester, Willcox & Saxbe as an associate.  Morrison became a partner at the firm in 2005.[4]

In 2012, Morrison became General Counsel and Chief Ethics Officer at the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation.[5]  She became the Administration and Chief Executive Officer in 2016 and continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Morrison has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on May 2, 2016, when Judge Gregory Frost moved to senior status.  Even though this seat opened with more than eight months left in the Obama Presidency, no nomination was put forward for the seat.

In April 2017, Morrison applied for the vacancy with a selection commission put together by Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican.[6]  Morrison interviewed with the Commission in late August, and was recommended to the senators.[7]  Morrison interviewed with Portman in September and the two senators jointly recommended Morrison shortly after.[8]

In October 2017, Morrison interviewed with the White House.[9]  She was officially nominated on April 12, 2018.

Legal Experience

Morrison began her legal career at Chester, Willcox & Saxbe in Columbus.  While there, Morrison focused on civil and commercial litigation.  During her time there, Morrison notably represented the National Football League (NFL) in defending against a suit filed by the widow of Korey Stringer, an offensive lineman with the Minnesota Vikings who died of heatstroke during a practice.[10]   She also represented Honda against an employment discrimination case brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.[11]  After becoming a partner at the firm, Morrison represented Ohio State University and the University of Toledo in defending against multiple employment discrimination claims.[12]

In 2012, Morrison moved to the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation, where she served as General Counsel.  In this role, she headed the Bureau’s legal department and managed both litigation and in-house work.  She has worked in a non-legal capacity as head of the Bureau in 2016.

Political Activity

Morrison has been fairly active in the Ohio Republican Party, having volunteered with the Ohio Republican Women Campaign Fund and Capital Area Republican Women.[13]  Morrison has also served on the Franklin County Republican Party Executive Committee since 2007 and volunteered for a PAC supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Presidential bid in 2016.[14]

Overall Assessment

Despite her Republican background, Morrison has obtained the support of Sen. Sherrod Brown.  At the same time, despite her work for Trump bete noire Kasich, Morrison has received a judicial nomination from the Administration.  These two facts together speak to Morrison’s general acceptability as a nominee.  Overall, given her strong support from Brown and Portman, Morrison is expected to be comfortably confirmed and add a moderate-conservative voice to the Southern District of Ohio.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Sarah D. Morrison: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. 

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 49.

[7] Id. 

[8] See id.

[9] Id.

[10] Stringer v. Nat’l Football League, Inc., 474 F. Supp. 2d 894 (S.D. Ohio 2007).

[11] EEOC and Ways v. Honda of North Amerca Mfg., No. 2:06cv233 (S.D. Ohio 2006).

[12] See Crystal Dixon v. University of Toledo, 842 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (N.D. Ohio 2012), aff’d, 702 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 2012); Sheryl Szeinbach v. Ohio State University, No. 2:08cv822 (S.D. Ohio 2008); Rosa Rodriguez-Monguio v. Ohio State University, No. 2:08cv139 (S.D. Ohio 2008).

[13] See Morrison, supra n. 1 at 35.

[14] Id.

Judge Stephanie Gallagher – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

Judge Stephanie Gallagher is the latest of several unconfirmed Obama nominees put forward by President Trump.  While her relatively uncontroversial record secured her a unanimous approval from the Committee in 2016, it was unable to secure a final confirmation vote.  This time, she is likely to be more lucky.

Background

Gallagher was born Stephanie Marie Agli in Rockville, Connecticut in 1972.  Gallagher received a B.A. from Georgetown University in the Government Honors Program magna cum laude in 1994, and then procured a J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2007.[1]

After graduation, Gallagher clerked for Judge J. Frederick Motz on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland. She then joined the D.C. office of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, & Feld as an associate.[2]  In 2002, Gallagher left the firm to become a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.[3]

In 2008, Gallagher founder the Baltimore firm Levin & Gallagher LLC.[4]  She stayed at the firm until she was appointed as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in 2011, replacing Judge James Bredar, who had been elevated to be a U.S. District Judge.[5]

History of the Seat

Gallagher has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.  This seat opened on February 1, 2016, when Judge William Quarles moved to senior status.[6]  In March 2013, Gallagher applied to fill other vacancies that had opened on the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.[7]  While Gallagher was recommended by then-Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the Administration selected other candidates.[8]  Nevertheless, Gallagher’s name was resubmitted to the White House in 2015, and she was nominated on September 8, 2015.[9]

Gallagher’s nomination sat before the Judiciary Committee for approximately seven months before she received a hearing on April 20, 2016.  On May 19, 2016, the Committee voted unanimously to send Gallagher’s nomination to the full Senate, where she was blocked from a final vote by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

After the election of President Trump, no further action was taken on Gallagher’s nomination, and her nomination was returned unconfirmed to the President in 2017.  President Trump renominated her on June 11, 2018 to fill the same vacancy.

Legal Career

Gallagher began her legal career as an associate at Akin Gump, where she represented large corporations in civil litigation.  Notably, Gallagher was part of the defense team representing the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, an Arab American charity charged with fundraising for Hamas.[10]

In 2001, Gallagher moved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, prosecuting a variety of cases, including white collar crimes, narcotics, and firearms offenses.  In an early case, Gallagher successfully prosecuted a defendant for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, securing a 63-month sentence.[11]  She also prosecuted a defendant charged with a narcotics conspiracy and multiple homicides, leading a two-week trial and defending the conviction successfully on appeal.[12]

From 2008 to 2011, Gallagher started her own practice focusing on white collar criminal defense matters.[13]  She also handled some court-appointed criminal defense work and general civil litigation.[14]

Political Activity

Somewhat unusually, Gallagher’s political involvement is evenly divided between the two major parties.  Gallagher was a volunteer for the campaign of Gregg Bernstein, a Democrat, to serve as Baltimore City Attorney in 2010, but also hosted a fundraiser at her home for former Gov. Robert Ehrlich the same year (Ehrlich, a Republican was challenging Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley).[15]

Her contributions reflect a similar pattern.  In 2006, Gallagher gave $250 to Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, but two years later donated $500 to Sen. John McCain’s campaign to be U.S. President.[16]

Jurisprudence and Reversals

Gallagher has served as a U.S. Magistrate judge in Maryland since her appointment in 2011.  In this role, she handles settlement, discovery, and makes recommendations on dispositive motions.  She also presides over cases where the parties consent.  Between 2011 and 2016, Gallagher presided over one jury trial and four bench trials.[17]  Gallagher’s more prominent trials include a damages case over the disappearance of a truckload of frozen salmon,[18] the calculation of damages for a wrongful termination case under the Family and Medical Leave Act,[19] and a bench trial arising from a traffic collision at Fort Meade.[20]

Gallagher has had a relatively low reversal rate during her tenure as a U.S. Magistrate Judge.  In one prominent reversal, Gallagher granted summary judgment against a road worker who was injured during work while suspended above traffic, finding that he had assumed the risk of injury.[21]  The Fourth Circuit reversed, finding that the assumption of risk defense did not apply in that case.[22]  She was also reversed by the Fourth Circuit after holding that a civil rights plaintiff had forfeited his right to attorney’s fees by not timely filing a motion with the court after judgment.[23]

Overall Assessment

Having been recommended for the federal bench by two Democrats and previously nominated by President Obama, Gallagher should face a relatively smooth path to confirmation.  Even though her initial foray as a nominee was unsuccessful, Gallagher’s renomination by President Trump should ensure a bipartisan confirmation.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Stephanie Gallagher: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 1-2.

[5] Brendan Kearney, Stephanie A. Gallagher Hearing Cases as New Magistrate Judge in Baltimore, The Daily Record, Apr. 24, 2011.

[6] Quarles, like Gallagher, was a failed judicial nominee renominated by a subsequent president.

[7] Gallagher, supra n. 1 at 39.

[8] Specifically, Judges Theodore Chuang, and George Hazel.

[9] Gallagher, supra n. 1 at 39.

[10] See James Grimaldi, An Arab American Charitable Connection That Might Be Too Close for Comfort, Wash. Post, Dec. 17, 2001.

[11] United States v. Butler, Criminal No. 01-0161-AW, aff’d, 61 F. App’x 857, 2003 WL 1711275 (4th Cir. Apr. 1, 2003) (unpublished per curiam opinion).

[12] United States v. Baskerville, Criminal No. 02-0410-CCB, aff’d, 253 F. App’x 280, 2007 WL 3306474 (4th Cir. Nov. 7, 2007) (unpublished per curiam opinion).

[13] Gallagher, supra n. 1 at 28.

[14] See id.

[15] Id. at 27.

[17] See Gallagher, supra n. 1 at 11.

[18] Merchants Terminal Corp. v. L&O Transport, Inc. et. al., Civil No. 09-2065-SAG, 2012 WL 1416631 (D. Md. Apr. 20, 2012).

[19] Neel v. Mid-Atlantic of Fairfield, LLC., Civil No. 10-0405-SAG, 2012 WL 3264965 (D. Md. Aug. 9, 2012).

[20] United States v. McNeill, Traffic Violation No. 2359730.

[21] See Meyers v. Lamar, No. SAG-11-3507, 2013 WL 1325295 (D. Md. Mar. 29, 2013).

[22] Meyers v. Lamar, 743 F.3d 908 (4th Cir. 2014).

[23] Fernandes v. Craine, 538 F. App’x 274 (4th Cir. 2013) (unpublished decision).