Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday she is hiring federal Judge Andre M. Davis to be the city's top lawyer.
Davis, a senior judge on the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, will become Baltimore's city solicitor starting Sept. 1, the mayor said. Among his most pressing tasks will be representing the city as it reforms the police department under a federal court-enforced consent decree with the Department of Justice.
"He brings a wealth of legal knowledge and experience to this position," Pugh said. "Baltimore is very fortunate. He has a great track record. He has distinguished himself throughout his career."
Acting City Solicitor David Ralph will continue on as Davis' deputy, the mayor said.
"It's huge for the city," Ralph said. "The appointment brings a prestige to the city ... We're all fortunate to have an accomplished jurist like that here. It speaks volumes to the mayor's leadership."
Davis, 68, was appointed to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1995, and to the appeals court by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Before joining the federal bench, he was a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge, a federal prosecutor and a housing manager in city government. He was born in Baltimore and earned his law degree at the University of Maryland.
Davis called his three decades as a judge a "labor of love," and called leaving the bench a "mixed blessing."
"Baltimore is at an historic intersection as it seeks to continue to rebuild itself as a thriving, diverse, and welcoming community, one truly on the move to greater heights," he said in a statement. "Its best days are ahead. The mayor's invitation to me to join in this profound effort has prompted me to make a decision that I could not have imagined making until the moment I actually made it.
"In agreeing to join her administration, I take advantage of a unique opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the revitalization of the City I love, and to a community that has nurtured and encouraged me for more than six decades."
The city did not immediately disclose what his salary will be.
Ralph, the acting city solicitor since August, played a high-profile role negotiating the agreement with the Justice Department under President Barack Obama, and then representing Baltimore during court hearings in the case, when he maintained the city's desire to move forward with police reform deal even as Justice officials under President Donald Trump expressed concern it would make the city less safe.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed Ralph to replace longtime city solicitor George Nilson, after Nilson hired a lawyer who turned out to have past ties to neo-Nazis.
Nilson said he had no way of knowing about the lawyer's past, and that he fired him when he learned about it.
Ralph stayed on after Pugh took office in December.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who follows the Fourth Circuit, called Davis a fantastic hire.
"It's a great coup by them to get someone of that ability," he said.
Davis drew praise from the left last month for writing an opinion praising Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy from Virginia who sued to be allowed to use the boys bathroom at his school.
Davis compared Grimm to plaintiffs in other historic civil rights cases: Dred Scott, a slave who tried to gain his freedom; Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American who fought internment; Linda Brown, a student in a segregated school system; Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple; Edie Windsor, a gay rights activist; and Jim Obergefell, a gay man who sought to have his marriage recognized.
"Today, hatred, intolerance, and discrimination persist — and are sometimes even promoted — but by challenging unjust policies rooted in invidious discrimination, G.G. takes his place among other modern-day human rights leaders who strive to ensure that, one day, equality will prevail," he wrote, referring to Grimm by his initials.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, called Davis' hiring "a stroke of genius on the part of Mayor Pugh."
"Judge Davis has deep roots in the city and extensive experience," she said. "He's respected in the academic community. I really see this only for him as an act of service."
University of Maryland law professor Douglas Colbert called Davis "one of the nation's brightest minds and dedicated public servants."
"Judge Davis' leadership has never been more important because of the city and police consent decree in federal court," Colbert said. "Every lawyer who wants to enhance justice should be thinking about applying to work for Judge Davis. It's a tremendous appointment and one that is going to benefit our city and our state."
By the time he becomes City Solicitor he will have been a judge for three decades.
Davis' departure will not create a vacancy on the Fourth Circuit for President Donald Trump to fill because in 2014 Davis took senior status — a way for older judges to continue sitting while taking on fewer cases — and his seat was filled then.
Clinton nominated Davis to the Fourth Circuit in the final months of his second term, but Senate Republicans declined to act on the nomination before the 2000 election. Had Davis been confirmed, he would have been the first African-American on the court and, Tobias said, on track to potentially become a Supreme Court justice.
Obama renominated him to the Fourth Circuit soon after he took office in 2009.
Davis serves on the advisory board of the Baltimore branch of the Open Society Institute.
Davis' "thoughtfulness, superb reputation, and vast experience prepare him well to be an extremely strong advocate for the city," OSI-Baltimore Director Diana Morris said.
Davis started kindergarten at an all-black public school in Baltimore in 1954, the year the Supreme Court held in Brown v. Board of Education that racially segregated schools were inherently unequal. Years later, discussion of the landmark ruling in an undergraduate law class at the University of Pennsylvania helped inspire Davis' legal career.
Davis told The Baltimore Sun in 2000 that he wants all participants in his courtroom to feel they were treated fairly.
"I want the loser — and I know there's always going to be a loser, that's the nature of the beast — but I want the loser to be able to say, 'I lost, but I was heard, and I believe that judge gave me every consideration in hearing my side,'" Davis said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.
Andre Maurice Davis
Experience: Senior Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland; Associate Judge, Baltimore Circuit Court; Associate Judge, District Court of Maryland.