I rise today to urge the Senate to confirm Judge George Levi Russell III of Maryland to be a US District Judge for the District of Maryland. Judge Russell was reported by voice vote of the Judiciary Committee on February 16, and he is not a controversial nominee. Judge Russell currently sits as a trial judge in the Baltimore City Circuit Court.
The Constitution provides for lifetime appointments for federal judges, which is unique in our federal government. I take this obligation very seriously in terms of the advice and consent role played by the Senate.
I am concerned, Mr. President, that our judicial confirmation process here in the Senate has broken down due to partisanship, particularly for non-controversial judges. Judge Russell’s nomination now joins a long list of backlogged, non-controversial judicial nominations that are stuck on the Senate floor. As of Monday, the Senate calendar contained 20 judicial nominations approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee still awaiting a final vote. 15 of these nominees have been pending since last year, and 18 of them have received strong bipartisan support from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Senate is therefore responsible for a rising vacancy rate in our nation’s Article III courts. The real victim here is not only the nominee and their family that are awaiting final Senate action. The real victim is the American people, who face increasing delays in courts that are overburdened and understaffed. A higher vacancy rate means lack of timely hearings and decisions by our federal courts, affecting our citizens’ ability to have access to justice and a fair and impartial resolution of their complaints.
In Maryland, Mr. President, we are trying to fill a vacancy that was created during the end of President Bush’s term of office, when Judge Peter Messitte took senior status in 2008. Judge Russell is an excellent candidate, received bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee, and is ready to take office upon being confirmed by the Senate. The time for action is now.
Judge Russell brings a wealth of experience to this position in both state and federal courts. Earlier in his career he served as a federal prosecutor and as an attorney in a private law firm. He now sits as a state court trial judge in Maryland.
Judge Russell graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. in political science in 1988, and a J.D. from Maryland Law School in 1991. He passed the bar examination and was admitted to practice in Maryland in 1991. He then clerked for Chief Judge Robert Bell on the Maryland Court of Appeals, our state’s highest court.
He worked as a Litigation Associate for 2 years at Hazel, Thomas, and then briefly at Whiteford, Taylor. He then served as an Assistant US Attorney for the District of Maryland from 1994 to 1999, handling civil cases. In that capacity he represented various federal government agencies in discrimination, accident, and medical malpractice cases.
He then worked as an associate at the Peter Angelos law firm for 2 years.
In 2002 he went back to the US Attorney’s office handling criminal cases until 2007. He represented the United States in the criminal prosecution of violent crime and narcotics cases during the investigatory stage, at trial, and on appeal. This included the initiation and monitoring of wiretaps to infiltrate and break up violent gangs in Baltimore City. He also served as the Project Safe Neighborhood Coordinator for the office from 2002 until 2005. He participated in community outreach programs, including attending community meetings on behalf of the office and attending meetings with the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, to reduce violent crime in Baltimore neighborhood.
In January 2007, Governor Ehrlich, a Republican, appointed him to serve as an Associate Judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court for a term of 15 years. As a trial judge, Judge Russell has presided over hundreds of trials that have gone to verdict or judgment, and has experience in handling jury trials, bench trails, civil cases, and criminal cases. He has the professional experience which has been recognized by a Republican Governor and a Democratic President.
Judge Russell has strong roots, legal experience, and community involvement in the state of Maryland. He was born and raised in Baltimore City, and has extended family who live in Baltimore. He serves as a Director and Trustee on the Board of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which serves the disadvantaged through the State of Maryland. He served on the Board of Directors of the Community Law Center, which is an organization designed to help neighborhood organizations improve the quality of life for their residents.
He has also served as a board member of several organizations that devoted substantial resources to helping the disadvantaged, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Maryland. I know that he has often spoken to young people in school about the obligation, duty, and mandate of a judge, and tries to demystify the role of a judge in a black robe. Judge Russell is particularly concerned with addressing the drug violence and mental health problems that plague Baltimore City.
I have spent some time today going through all of Judge Russell’s qualifications. We have got to put a face on the people who are being denied the opportunity for an up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate.
I am absolutely confident that Judge Russell possesses the qualifications, temperament, and passion for justice that will make him an outstanding United States District Court Judge for the District of Maryland. He will serve the people of Maryland very well in this position. I therefore urge the Senate to confirm Judge Russell and end these unnecessary and unwarranted delays in the confirmation of non-controversial judicial nominations.