Donald J. Trump’s election victory likely dooms the federal-judgeship hopes of an Obama nominee in Baltimore and could shift the ideological composition of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But Trump’s win does not alter the career plans of Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein – unless the incoming president makes it so.
On the judgeship front, President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher to the U.S. District Court has laid dormant in the Senate since May 19, as the legislative body’s Republican leadership has declined to move her name to the floor in hope that the GOP would retake the White House.
Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton has turned that wish into a reality, enabling the incoming president to fill the district-court seat left vacant by the retirement of U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. in February.
Maryland’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, had forwarded Gallagher’s name to Obama to fill Quarles’ seat. Obama nominated Gallagher for the federal judgeship in September 2015.
The Senate Judiciary Committee subsequently approved her nomination for a full Senate vote, which has not occurred.
As for the 4th Circuit, Trump will enter the presidency with the possibility of restoring a conservative majority to the appellate panel that oversees federal trial courts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas.
Two Democratic-appointed judges on the 15-member court are in their mid or early 70s, potentially enabling Trump to give Republican appointees an 8-7 edge if the pair step down from the bench during the incoming president’s term.
The two judges are Robert B. King, 76, and Diana Gribbon Motz, 73, whom then-President Bill Clinton appointed to the bench in 1998 and 1994, respectively. Motz is a former Maryland assistant attorney general and Court of Special Appeals Judge.
Trump could reverse the sea change Obama brought to the 4th Circuit with his seven appointees to the appellate court that had long been regarded as the federal judiciary’s most conservative. Obama’s appointments flipped what had been a 9-6 Republican-appointed majority to a 9-6 Democratic lead.
Trump is expected to face little opposition to his judicial picks in the Senate, where Republicans retain control of the legislative chamber that would have to confirm his nominees.
Meanwhile, Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney, has told associates he has no plans to leave his job when Trump is sworn in Jan. 20.
Trump, of course, could relieve Rosenstein of his duties if the incoming president chooses to do so. However, if the past is prologue, Rosenstein — who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations — will remain Maryland’s top federal prosecutor.
Then-President George W. Bush, a Republican, appointed Rosenstein to be U.S. attorney in 2005 and he has remained on the job under Obama. Bush also nominated Rosenstein, for a seat on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the nomination was never considered by the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee as Bush’s presidency drew to a close in January 2009.