Judge Mary Rowland – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

When the White House negotiates judge packages with Senators, it is inevitable that both sides have to accept nominees they would not otherwise have chosen.  That is likely what led the Trump Administration to nominate Judge Mary Rowland, an otherwise left-of-center nominee, for the federal bench.

Background

Mary Margaret Rowland was born on October 8, 1961 in Akron, OH.  Rowland graduated from the University of Michigan in 1984 and then worked for seven months as a field coordinator for the Senate campaign of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).[1]  Rowland then attended the University of Chicago Law School, graduating in 1988.

After graduation, Rowland clerked for Judge Julian Cook on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  She then joined the Federal Defender’s Office in Chicago, becoming the Chief Appellate Attorney in 1995.[2]  In 2000, Rowland became an Income Partner at Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.[3]  In 2012, Rowland was appointed as a Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.[4]  She continues to serve on that Court.

In 2009, Rowland was recommended to the Obama Administration for a federal judgeship by Sen. Dick Durbin, which could have made her the first openly gay nominee to the federal bench.[5]  The Administration ended up nominating three other choices: Sharon Coleman; Gary Feinerman; and Edmund Chang.

History of the Seat

Rowland has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on May 25, 2018, when Judge Amy St. Eve was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Unlike Seeger and Pacold, who had their first contact with the White House, Rowland applied directly to the screening committee set up by Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth.[6]  In February 2018, she interviewed with Durbin and his staff.[7]  She interviewed with the White House in April and was officially nominated in June.

Legal Career

Rowland’s legal career before she became a judge largely focused on criminal defense and civil rights work.  As a federal defender in Chicago, Rowland tried five jury cases.[8]  She also served as Chief Appellate Attorney, arguing, among other cases, to successfully overturn the sentence of Mr. Stanback, convicted of a firearms offense.[9]

In private practice, Rowland notably represented a group of 3000 African Americans in a disparate impact suit against the City of Chicago after they were denied jobs as entry-level firefighters.[10]  Her team secured a trial verdict in favor of the firefighters.[11]  After the verdict was overturned on appeal, it was reinstated by the Supreme Court.[12]

Jurisprudence and Reversals

Rowland has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since her appointment in 2012.  In this role, she presides over arraignments, bail hearings, and non-dispositive motions.  She also handles civil cases by consent of the parties.  In her six years on the bench, Rowland has presided over three jury and two bench trials.  One of her jury trials involved a false arrest and excessive force claim brought against the Chicago police, which concluded with a partial verdict for the plaintiff.[13]

Over the course of her six year tenure on the state bench, Rowland has been reversed by higher courts in three cases.[14]  Two of those cases involved Rowlings’ rulings supporting ALJ denials of benefits being reversed by higher courts.[15]  The final case reversed Rowland’s use of a multiplier in determining fees in a class action case.[16]

Political Activity

Rowland has a limited political history, mainly consisting of her work for former Sen. Carl Levin and volunteering for President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008.[17]

Overall Assessment

If Rowland had been nominated by President Obama in 2010, she would have been the first LGBT judge on the Illinois federal bench (an honor that went to Judge Staci Yandle in 2014).  It speaks to the Trump Administration’s assertiveness with judicial dealmaking that they proceeded with Rowland’s nomination.  That being said, her nomination by Trump and support from Durbin and Duckworth essentially guarantees Rowland a comfortable confirmation and gives Trump his first LGBT judicial appointee.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Mary M. Rowland: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Bill Dwyer, Oak Park’s Rowland Possible Nominee for Federal Bench, OakPark.com, Aug. 25, 2009, http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/8-25-2009/Oak-Park’s-Rowland-possible-nominee-for-federal-bench/.

[6] See. Rowland, supra n. 1 at 47.

[7] Id. 

[8] See id. at 35-36.

[9] See United States v. Stanback, 113 F.3d 651 (7th Cir. 1997).

[10] Lewis v. City of Chic., 2005 WL 693618 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 22, 2005), rev’d, 528 F.3d 488 (7th Cir. 2008), rev’d, 130 S. Ct. 2191 (2010).

[11] See id.

[12] See Trudy Ring, Lesbian Attorney Becomes Federal Magistrate Judge in Illinois, Advocate, Nov. 16, 2012, https://www.advocate.com/society/law/2012/11/16/lesbian-attorney-becomes-federal-magistrate-judge-illinois.  

[13] See Fox-Martin v. Tryba, No. 09-cv-1690, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99237 (N.D. Ill. July 16, 2013).

[14] Rowland, supra n. 1 at 29.

[15] See Cullinan v. Colvin, No. 15-cv-11499, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171975 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 13, 2016), rev’d, Cullinan v. Berryhill, 878 F.3d 598 (7th Cir. 2017) (reversing ruling holding that ALJ decision was supported by substantial evidence); Stahl v. Colvin, No. 13-cv-0752, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5841 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 20, 2015), rev’d, 632 F. App’x 853 (7th Cir. 2015) (reversing finding that substantial evidence supported ALJ determination).

[16] In re Sears, Roebuck & Co. Front-Loading Washer Prods. Liab. Litig., 867 F.3d 791 (7th Cir. 2017).

[17] See Rowland, supra n. 1 at 32.

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