Senate panel advances Michigan judicial nominee Davis

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved in a voice vote U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Dawkins Davis to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, advancing her nomination to the U.S. Senate.

Davis, a former federal prosecutor from Farmington Hills, in March became the first African-American woman whom President Donald Trump picked to be a judge. 

Stephanie Dawkins Davis

Trump has since also nominated Ada Brown, an African-American woman, for the U.S. District Court in Dallas and whom the committee advanced last week.

If confirmed by the Senate, Davis would fill a vacancy on the federal bench that's been open since former Chief Judge Gerald E. Rosen in Detroit retired in late 2016. Rosen was an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush.

Trump's other judicial nominee from Michigan, Michael Bogren, last week withdrew his name from consideration.

His withdrawal followed three Republican senators accusing Bogren of being hostile to religious freedom, citing his legal defense of the city of East Lansing against a Catholic couple opposed to same-sex marriage. 

Bogren said his nomination had been derailed by an "unfounded personal attack," and he sent a letter to the White House after hearing from Judiciary Committee staff counsel that there was "no path to confirmation."

Democrats on the committee agreed to a voice vote on four of 15 judicial nominees Thursday, including Davis, "because they strongly supported them," said Carl Tobias, who studies the judicial selection process at the University of Richmond School of Law.

"It is a testament to the confidence that they and the GOP have in her. Thus, I expect an easy final vote in July or maybe September," Tobias said.

Davis, 52, was appointed a magistrate judge in 2016 and assigned to the Flint courthouse.

In her committee questionnaire, Davis said as a judge she has presided over 16 civil cases that have gone to judgment, including racketeering, computer fraud and food-stamp fraud cases, as well as a prisoner civil rights case involving Muslim inmates. 

She worked as a federal prosecutor for 18 years, starting at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit in 1997 and later appointed by U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade as her executive assistant U.S. attorney in 2010. 

One of her most high-profile cases to date involved arraigning Amor Ftouhi in the 2017 terrorism and stabbing attack at Flint's Bishop International Airport. Ftouhi was later convicted and faces up to life in prison.

Davis, who grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, was a young student when she became interested in the law because of the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, which in 1954 declared racial segregation of children in public schools unconstitutional.

She graduated from Wichita State University in 1989 and Washington University School of Law in St. Louis in 1992.

Davis started her career as a civil defense attorney at the firm Dickinson Wright PLLC before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District.

One of her last major cases as an assistant U.S. attorney was as part of a team prosecuting former Detroit Treasurer Jeffrey Beasley and others in a corruption trial involving the city’s pension funds. 

The high-profile case aired allegations that Beasley and two others defrauded the bankrupt city's pension funds by accepting kickbacks and bribes in exchange for approving $200 million in corrupt deals. Beasley was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2015.

Davis also served as a deputy unit chief of the Controlled Substances Unit and as high-intensity drug trafficking area liaison. 

In 2015, she won a 2015 “Champion of Justice” award from the State Bar of Michigan for going “above and beyond” the call of duty as a federal prosecutor.