Longtime U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm was promoted to a U.S. District Court judgeship in Maryland by a nearly unanimous confirmation vote in the Senate on Monday despite a backlog of nominations that has left dozens of vacancies on the federal bench.

Grimm, a Towson resident who has served as a magistrate judge for the District of Maryland since 1997, fills the opening left by Judge Benson E. Legg, who assumed senior status this year.


Grimm's nomination by President Barack Obama in February was uncontroversial — members of both parties supported him — but the gridlocked Senate has been slow to confirm judges. The District Court now has 67 vacancies, about 10 percent of the bench.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski thanked colleagues on the Senate floor Monday evening for "breaking the logjam." The Democratic lawmaker described Grimm as "an outstanding legal mind" who is "a public servant first and foremost."

Grimm, 60, served as an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore County in the 1980s, then worked for three years as an assistant attorney general. Born in Japan, he graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 1973 and received his law degree from the University of New Mexico in 1976.

He was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1977.

Despite broad bipartisan support — Grimm was confirmed on a 92-1 vote — his nomination had languished for months. Experts say federal court vacancies have significantly slowed review of civil cases in some jurisdictions.

"It's a hopeful sign" that Grimm was confirmed, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, who described Grimm as "highly respected." But, he added, "there's just no reason why he shouldn't have received a vote months ago."

There are 18 District Court nominees awaiting a final Senate confirmation vote.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, defended the chamber's confirmation rate, noting that 32 district judges, including Grimm, have been cleared this year.

Full-time U.S. magistrate judges are appointed to their eight-year terms by federal judges. They oversee a wide range of proceedings to expedite civil and criminal cases in federal court, including detention hearings and arraignments. Federal judges, by contrast, are nominated by the president and are tenured for life.

"Judge Grimm is a nationally recognized expert on cutting-edge issues of law and technology," said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat. "He also is a well-regarded and admired legal scholar who has the respect of the Maryland legal community."