Judge Stephanie Davis – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

A Democrat named to the federal bench by a Republican President, Judge Stephanie Davis is poised for elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Background

Davis was born Stephanie Renaye Dawkins in Kansas City Missouri in 1967.  Davis received a B.S. from Wichita State University in 1989 and her J.D. from the Washington University School of Law in 1992.[1]

After graduation, Davis joined the Detroit office of Dickinson Wright PLLC.[2]  In 1997, Davis joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan as a federal prosecutor.[3]  In 2010, newly appointed U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade chose Davis to be Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney.[4] 

In 2016, Davis was appointed as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Michigan.  In 2019, at the recommendation of Michigan’s Democratic Senators, President Trump nominated Davis to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  Davis was unanimously confirmed to the position on December 19, 2019.  She currently serves as a U.S. District Judge.

History of the Seat

Davis has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  The current holder of the seat, Judge Helene White, another Democrat nominated by a Republican President, has announced that she will move to senior status upon the confirmation of a successor.

Legal Career

Davis has held two primary positions in her pre-bench career.  From 1992 to 1997, Davis worked at the Detroit office of Dickinson Wright PLLC, where she focused largely on commercial litigation.  Then, from 1997 to 2016, Davis worked as a federal prosecutor, including as the Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney, the second in command to then-U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, from 2010 to 2016.

Notably, as a prosecutor, Davis prosecuted Sohrab Shafinia, a Farmington doctor, for writing prescriptions for controlled substances in exchange for cash payments.[6]  She also helped prosecute Detroit officials for taking bribes and kickbacks and conspiring to defraud retirees.[7]

Political Activity

Davis’ political activity has exclusively been in support of Democrats.  For example, Davis served with the transition team of Detroit mayor Dennis Archer in 1993 and volunteered to conduct election protection for the Obama campaign in 2008.[8]  She also gave $250 apiece to the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012.[9]  Furthermore, Davis was a member of the American Constitution Society, an organization of left-leaning lawyers and law students, from 2008 and 2016, and served on the Board of the Detroit Chapter of the group between 2012 and 2015.[10]

Jurisprudence

Davis served as a U.S. Magistrate judge from her appointment in 2016 to 2019.  In this role, she handled settlement, discovery, and made recommendations on dispositive motions.  She also presided over cases where the parties consent.  Between 2016 and 2019, Davis presided over sixteen civil cases that proceeded to judgment.[11]  Davis’s more prominent trials include a Computer Fraud Act case against a former employee who stole information before setting up a competitor,[12] and a bench trial arising from a traffic collision at Fort Meade.[13]  Additionally, in another matter, Davis denied summary judgment against Muslim plaintiffs who argued that they were denied calorically equivalent meals during their fasts for Ramadan.[14]

Since her confirmation in 2019, Davis has served as a U.S. District Judge on the Eastern District of Michigan.  Among the notable matters that Davis handled as a district judge, she was assigned to review a Michigan law that criminalized the practice of hiring drivers to transport voters to the polls.[15]  Davis granted a preliminary injunction against the law, finding that the statute was pre-empted by federal law.[16]  However, Davis’ decision was subsequently overruled by a 2-1 decision of the Sixth Circuit, although Chief Judge R. Guy Cole supported Davis’ decision in dissent.[17]

Overall Assessment

Davis has already been unanimously approved by the Senate less than three years ago.  While she is unlikely to repeat that feat, some of the gloss from her earlier confirmation is likely to carry over to this one.  Davis’ background as a federal prosecutor and magistrate judge makes her a fairly traditional nominee, and is unlikely to draw significant controversy.  For senators who oppose Davis, her reversal by the Sixth Circuit in the voter transportation case is bound to be closely cited.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Stephanie Davis: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 58.

[6] Michigan Physician Guilty of Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substance, Targeted News Service, Sept. 3, 2009.

[7] Jury Convicts Former Detroit City Treasurer, Pension Officials of Conspiring to Defraud Pensioners Through Bribery, U.S. Fed News, Dec. 8, 2014.

[8] Id. at 40.

[10] See Davis, supra n. 1 at 4.

[11] See id. at 12.

[12] Am. Furukawa, Inc. v. Hossain, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161650 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 29, 2017).

[13] United States v. McNeill, Traffic Violation No. 2359730.

[14] Conway v. Purves, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128171 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 1, 2016), report and recommendation adopted, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127648 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 20, 2016) (Parker, J.).

[15] See Marshall Cohen, Michigan Judge Blocks Law That Banned Paid Transportation to Polls, CNN.com, Sept. 17, 2020.

[16] See id. 

[17] Colin Kalmbacher, Conservative Appeals Court Allows Michigan to Enforce Ban on Paid Transportation to the Polls in Loss for Voting Rights Advocates, Newstex Blogs, July 21, 2021.

34 Comments

  1. I believe this is the first former member of the American Constitution Society to be nominated by President Biden. Hopefully this won’t be the last. As discussed on this site, Jennifer Nou may be considered for the Chicago 7th circuit so he would be the second.

    As for Davis, while I wish she was in her 40’s instead of mid 50’s, she is a solid nominee otherwise. It’s an interesting coincidence that once confirmed, this will be a Democrat nominated by a Republican president replacing a Democrat nominated by a Republican president.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If I had to hazard a guess, we will most if not all of the district judges in the current voting batch be confirmed.
    Nathan won’t see her confirmation until next week, at which point I expect to see Mathis and discharge motions being done to clear out the backlog.

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  3. I hate not being able to edit comments because I can see where I left a couple of words out in an earlier comment
    What I meant to say in my previous post is that based on what we’re seeing with the cloture votes, we will see most of the district court nominees who Schumer is teeing up for votes be confirmed this week on Wednesday and Thursday, Alison Nathan likely won’t see her confirmation until next week though unless the unlikely happens and Schumer holds weekend votes (won’t happen.)
    Still, we should be happy on this front.
    Now if only we can see some nominees, that would be great.

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    • I know, as great as this site is, I wish we were able to edit our comments when we realize we made a mistake.

      I wish Schumer would go back to voting for cloture on circuit court nominees on Thursday (Since we know a Friday & Saturday session is out of the question), so they can be confirmed the following Monday.

      Like

  4. Didn’t realize Senator Shaheen was out this week with COVID.
    Schumer must be confident he has the votes for some of the judges he is filing cloture on even without her (and likely Harris to serve as tiebreaker)
    We’ll know soon enough.

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  5. In an unrelated matter, Sarah Bloom Raskin withdrew her nomination to serve on the Federal Reserve. Biden’s other three nominees, including the first black woman to be nominated to the board, can proceed and likely be confirmed with little trouble.

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    • Schumer really needs to get moving on the 5 nominees that need to be discharged. I read somewhere on this site one of the Dems are out due to Covid so I get why not this week, but once the band is all back together again, he really needs to make those 5 discharge votes a priority. Some of them were nominated back in September. Two are from his home state of New York so I would think there would be a little more urgency then he’s shown.

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      • So far the only two Biden nominees Manchin has opposed (Both non judicial) were because of them being really outspoken. I was worried he might sink Jennifer Sung but when he voted for her I think most of the pending nominees should be ok. If I had to pick one he might tank I would say Dale Ho with him being a man for a district court seat in a deep blue state. He would be replaced fairly quickly & easy. But I think all should be fine barring anything currently unknown.

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      • @Dequan I think it’s 3 non-judicial nominees that had to withdraw (including Saule Omarova, who faced opposition from other Dems besides Manchin: https://www.npr.org/2021/12/07/1062210606/bidens-pick-to-become-a-key-banking-regulator-withdraws-after-ugly-nomination-fi).

        However, it is noticeable that all three nominees who didn’t get through were women (and two were Asian American women). This is why I’m most concerned about Nusrat Choudhury. She hasn’t had a confirmation hearing yet, but the post on here is probably correct that she will need to be discharged.

        I know we’ve discussed this before and @Dequan you think Manchin wouldn’t tank the first Muslim woman and first Bangladeshi-American judge, but I actually think her personal background makes him more likely to oppose her. Regardless of how racist Manchin personally is (which I’m sure he is), unfortunately, it would probably be good politics in West Virginia to act racist – especially towards Muslim Americans.

        I also wonder if this is why Dale Ho was chosen for an SDNY rather than a 2nd Circuit seat. That would be the only acceptable reason to me personally for passing him over, but I don’t think the administration is organized enough to run their contentious nominations by Manchin. The whole fiasco with Robert King on the 4th is hardly an encouraging sign.

        Lastly, what is with the hold up with more nominees? Does anybody have a petition or something we can sign? Or some way to pressure the administration to get its act together?

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      • @Anne

        You are correct. What I meant to say was Manchin has SOLEY been responsible for two non judicial nominees being tanked. And I also would bet your right about Dale Ho. It’s almost inconceivable for him to be picked for a district court & not one of THREE second circuit seats if not the DC circuit where I think he should have been picked for. A young, progressive AAPI nominee like him simply doesn’t deserve to be on a district court with FIVE circuit court vacancies he could have been considered for.

        I think it’s possible for a Manchin to vote against the first Muslim women but I think it would have been more likely had she been switched to the 7th circuit like I suggested instead of the NY district court.

        Judge King rescinding his retirement still pisses me off. How could Biden & his team not have worked something out short of allowing him to pick his successor of course. If that was his demand then I support him rescinding as you can’t set that precedent.

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  6. I do realize judges time senior status to ensure they get replaced by someone with their judicial philosophy but that is far different from doing the pick whom I want or else tactics King used with his senior status.
    He wanted Carte Goodwin(whom I thought was going to be the nominee) to replace him and when Manchin wanted to go with someone else, he rescinded his senior status.
    IMO, in a case like that, you do put your foot down, as that isn’t a precedent you want to allow to be set.

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    • @Zack

      Exactly. While I actually have no problem with Carte Goodwin being the nominee for West Virginia, you just can’t nominate him with a theoretical gun to your head by the retiring judge. I agree with letting him stay on the bench versus bowing to his demand.

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      • @Dequan and @Zack I agree with the principle of not letting judges dictate their successors, but King is 82 and who knows when (or if) the Democrats will have both a Senate majority and the Presidency again after 2022. With the Senate’s rural bias and this fall shaping up to be a 2010-level disaster for the Dems, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Senate stays in Republican hands for a decade if not longer. The reality is that King will (unfortunately) probably die in office and be replaced by a Republican-appointed hard-right judge, which will weaken the liberal majority on the few good circuits.

        The administration should’ve played hardball with King – at the first sign of intransigence, they should’ve pretended to consider Goodwin, left King in the dark, and nominated J. Jeaneen Legato immediately. It would’ve been harder and more embarrassing for King to take his senior status back when there was already a nominee.

        Alternatively, they could’ve accepted a just white man for this seat and nominated more women and people of color elsewhere. I can’t imagine it would’ve been that hard to get Manchin on board with Goodwin since both of them run in the same WV political families, and Manchin is hardly someone who cares about diversifying the judiciary.

        In the end, it feels to me like the administration messed up by moving too slowly & indecisively. We’re seeing this happen again with the lack of nominees now, as well as their failure to pass anything other than the infrastructure bill in the fall. It’s increasingly clear that Biden is the wrong person for the moment because (whether due to his age or other factors) he doesn’t seem to understand the urgency of anything he’s doing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @Dequan J. Jeaneen Legato, whom the Biden administration allegedly would have nominated, had close ties to Manchin (https://www.newsbreak.com/news/2448036826461/judge-withdraws-retirement). I assume this means she was Manchin’s pick – given how much power Manchin has right now, I find it hard to believe that Biden would have insisted on her over Carte Goodwin unless Manchin was the one pushing it.

        If I’m wrong and the push for Legato was really from the administration rather than Manchin, then this is one of their worst judicial blunders yet. I just don’t buy that being the case though. There are so many other circuit court seats to fill that have plenty of diverse candidates to choose from (though Biden’s struggling to even do that…), so I doubt Biden was the one who loved Legato so much that he would rather risk the next Republican president filling this seat.

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      • Oh excellent info. Thanks for the link. I had no idea who Manchin’s pick was. I think your right, she was more Manchin’s pick then Biden’s. As you correctly said, whoever Manchin wanted short of a Klansman would have been nominated without fail by Biden.

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  7. It just took almost a hour for the cloture vote for Julie Rubin. Schumer took to the floor & asked for unanimous consent to limit all remaining votes tonight to 10 minutes because “We are going to get this done tonight”. The motion was agreed to.

    Thank you senator Schumer. It’s about time I see some steel in your spine.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Schumer just angrily took to the floor after the Hector Gonzalez cloture vote & said that vote (Which was about 20 minutes) took too long. He said we have a lot more votes to go tonight. Now THIS is how a majority leader should lead.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. @Anne
    While I agree with the frustration of being slow on judicial nominees(if we don’t have any by the end of the month, that will be a problem) and also agree that it sucks that King is likely to be replaced by someone horrible, I don’t fault anyone but King for what happened in the end.
    Someone who takes senior status then revokes it because he didn’t get who he wanted as his replacement wouldn’t have cared if someone had been named or not or he wouldn’t have done his temper tantrum in the first place.
    And to say Biden wasn’t right for the moment overlooks the fact that under Trump, Reagan Judge Michael Kanne did the same thing.
    He wanted one person to replace him and one person only and when told that wouldn’t happen, he took back his senior status despite Mitch McConnell and others begging him otherwise.
    At the end of the day, a federal judge gets to make the final call on whether or not he or she stays and if they want to be jerks about it, you have two choices.
    Cave or tell them no and accept the consequences.
    I’ll take the latter every time.

    Like

    • Just to add on about when we will get the next batch of nominees, we are at the point of the calendar where it really doesn’t make a difference if we get another batch today (Which I really hope we do) or 10 days from now.

      Most nominees don’t get a hearing before 30 days of their announcements (Unless they are already a sitting federal judge like KB, Lucy Koh or Stephanie Davis). With the Easter recess (We already have discussed on other post on this site that, unlike when Republicans are in the majority, Democrats do not have nomination hearings during recess weeks) next month, if we got a batch of nominees today, the earliest they will likely get a nominations hearing is Wednesday, April 27th. That is because the Easter recess runs from April 10 – April 23.

      So with the schedule in mind, if we got a batch today or waited 10 days from now, the first likely hearing would still be the date mentioned above. But with that said I’m not endorsing waiting any longer. I’m tired of checking The White House briefing alerts only to see nominations of positions I’ve never heard of like Secretary of Aging… Lol

      Liked by 2 people

    • @Zack all great points – you’re probably right that even announcing a candidate would not have shamed King into not throwing his little temper tantrum, though I think the administration should have tried.

      After discussing with Dequan above about how Jeaneen Legato was probably more Manchin’s pick than Biden’s, I agree that the administration was caught between a rock and a hard place here with King and Manchin. I just think Manchin could have been persuaded to accept Goodwin (after all, Manchin appointed Goodwin to his own Senate seat before he ran!) before it became clear that King was giving an ultimatum.

      I also disagree and think that if it were any other Senator being stubborn, the administration should’ve just caved to the judge and do whatever it takes to get them to take senior status. Do I think it’s absolutely horrible and arguably unconstitutional that judges would use their life tenure in such a way? Yes, but we are so far behind in rebalancing the judiciary that every seat matters.

      I also remember the whole hoopla with Kanne rescinding his senior status as well. However, I remember it was because Mike Pence didn’t like the pick and was willing to die on that hill – there’s no way that Pence will be in the next Republican administration, and I will bet my life savings that the Republicans will fold to Kanne and nominate the guy he wanted in 2025 or 2029. The Republicans are going to play by any principles in their rush to stack the judiciary full of young FedSoc folks, so I think Dems are disadvantaging themselves by not doing the same. Especially because the rural bias in the Senate means that a Dem President + Senate will soon become rarer than a blue moon.

      Like

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