Judicial nominee Behm sails through Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Genesee County Circuit Judge Frances Kay Behm took few questions Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her qualifications to serve on the federal bench in Michigan's Eastern District. 

Behm, 53, of Grand Blanc has been a judge for the Genesee County Circuit and Probate Courts for 13 years, currently assigned to the civil and criminal divisions and Business Court. She was appointed by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm in April 2009. 

Genesee County Circuit Judge Frances Kay Behm testifies Wednesday, July 27, 2022, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Behm was nominated by President Joe Biden to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Prior to her time on the bench, Behm spent 15 years in private practice focused mostly on business litigation and probate law, including time with two firms — Winegarden, Haley, Lindholm & Robertson in Flint from 1997 to 2008 and at Braun Kendrick Finbeiner in Saginaw from 1994 to 1997.

Republican senators trained most of their questions during Wednesday's hearing on two circuit appeals court nominees who appeared prior to Behm, but she did get quizzed by Louisiana GOP Sen. John Kennedy, who asked a series of law exam-type questions to the panel of four district court nominees. 

Behm easily answered Kennedy's question on plenary and enumerated powers but blanked when asked about the dormant Commerce Clause.  

"As I sit here today after studying for the last two weeks, I just can't recall," Behm said. "I know it's in my note cards, if you, if you want me to go grab them?" 

Kennedy didn't appear bothered and concluded his questioning. 

Behm was introduced to the committee Wednesday by Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, both Democrats. 

Stabenow told the senators that Behm and her four siblings grew up on a dairy farm in Alma, Michigan, milking cows and baling hay and driving tractors but that the 1980s farm crisis caused her parents to nearly lose the farm.

"That experience changed Judge Behm forever. It led her to pursue degrees in business and law, so that she could help other Michigan families," Stabenow said.

"During her time as a judge, she has never forgotten her humble roots, and she has worked hard to ensure that everyone who appears before her is seen and heard."

Behm graduated from Albion College in 1991 and got her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1994. 

Peters noted Behm's experience on the bench. She conducted over 1,600 bench trials and three jury trials while assigned to the Family Division, and another 16 bench trials and 18 jury trials when assigned to the civil/criminal and business court, according to a questionnaire she submitted to the committee.

"Her colleagues and those who have appeared before Judge Behm described her as one of the top jurist that they have ever interacted with and as someone who has the experience the temperament and passion to be a distinguished member of the federal bench," Peters said.

"They say she gives each person before her an opportunity to be heard and routinely praise her work ethic and her preparation."

Behm also sits on the boards of the Michigan Probate Judges Association, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flint and Genesee County.

Carl Tobias, who studies the federal judicial selection process at the University of Richmond School of Law, said the hearing went fine for Behm, considering the GOP senators' focus on the panel of circuit court nominees and Behm's qualifications.

"Sen. Kennedy’s law school exam question on the dormant Commerce Clause will not be a big deal, because even Kennedy did not seem troubled that she was not certain of the answer," Tobias said.

"The nominee was wise to say she could not remember, rather than risk the wrong answer, and district judges rarely encounter dormant Commerce Clause issues."

He predicted that Behm will "easily" win confirmation — the only question being when a vote will take place. The Senate is poised to depart on its summer recess after next week.

Behm was accompanied to Wednesday's hearing by husband and attorney Michael J. Behm, who is a regent for the University of Michigan, and their three children.

mburke@detroitnews.com