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Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis Makes History with Senate Confirmation

President Joe Biden and the Democratic-led Senate have made history again, placing yet another Black woman in a prominent position. 

On Tuesday, May 24, with the slightest edge, the Senate voted 49 to 43 to confirm Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis of Michigan to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. 

Credit: Kansas Public Schools

Davis makes history twice with this post — as she becomes not only the first African- American woman from Michigan, but the second African-American woman in history, to serve this particular court, one that has appellate jurisdiction over the federal district courts in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. 

In a statement, Davis said the nomination and confirmation, together, is the “honor of my life.” She added, “My life’s work has been in service of the cause of justice and I will endeavor to faithfully execute this cause.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) advocated for Davis after she was nominated by the president in February. 

After her confirmation, she said, “Judge Davis will be an outstanding judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Her time at the Eastern District of Michigan has demonstrated her excellent work as a thoughtful and fair judge.”

She continued, “Judge Davis has spent her entire career serving the people of Michigan. I know she will continue this work on the Sixth Circuit.”

The Wichita State University and Washington University School of Law graduate’s career have been celebrated by both sides of the aisle. Currently, she serves as the U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan and has been based in Flint, an appointment rendered by former President Donald Trump in 2019.

Before this capacity, the Kansas City native served as a magistrate judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan from 2016 to 2019, and in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan as executive assistant United States attorney from 2010 to 2015.

During the March hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Davis spoke about how she has a particular judicial philosophy and doesn’t fit into popular boxes like being a textualist or originalist, the Detroit News reported.

“The manner of analysis that I apply in any given case is based upon the precedent in that area,” she said before describing her process.

“We’re going to start with the letters that are on the paper in front of us, and we are going to begin there,” Davis said. “Next, we’re going to look to precedent. We’ll look to the actual structure and context of the actual statute and so on.”

When asked by a Republican senator Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee if she thinks “vote hauling” or paying voters to go to the polls should be allowed, she responded, “Senator, no.”

She further stated she had a case pending that is dealing with voting, so she wanted to be limited in what she said about elections, adding, “I was not familiar with that terminology [vote hauling] before that.”

Blackburn, confident with her candidacy, joined GOP South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voting 13 to 9 to advance Davis’ nomination.

Another Michigan Senator, Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), also said he was “confident” about her ability to serve on the appellate court, highlighting her “exemplary legal mind” and her being a “qualified jurist.”  

Peters said, “I’m confident her commitment to upholding the rule of law will continue to serve our state and nation well in our federal judicial system.” 

Davis will fill the vacancy on the Sixthth Circuit left open after Judge Helene White of Michigan obtained senior status in the court. 

Since Biden took office in 2021, 63 of the president’s 92 circuit and district court nominees have won confirmation.

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