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Senate advances Davis nomination to the 6th Circuit


Washington — The U.S. Senate on Thursday advanced the nomination of Michigan's Stephanie Dawkins Davis to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. 

The vote was 48-36. A final vote on her nomination is expected next week. 

The former federal prosecutor from Farmington Hills has served on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for nearly two and a half years following her selection by former President Donald Trump in 2019. She is based at the U.S. courthouse in Flint. 

If confirmed, Davis, 54, would become the first Black woman from Michigan to serve on the 6th Circuit and only the second Black woman ever to serve on the circuit, which handles appeals from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Davis' nomination in early April, with two Republicans votes in support — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

Davis grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and graduated from Wichita State University in 1989 and Washington University School of Law in St. Louis in 1992.

She previously served as a magistrate judge, appointed in 2016. Davis started her career as a civil defense attorney at the firm Dickinson Wright PLLC in Detroit before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she worked as a federal prosecutor for 18 years, starting in 1997.

She was later appointed by then Detroit U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade as her executive assistant U.S. attorney in 2010 — a post she held through 2015. 

At the U.S. Attorney's Office, Davis also served as a deputy unit chief of the Controlled Substances Unit and as high-intensity drug trafficking area liaison. 

Davis was the first Black woman that Trump nominated to the federal bench as president. Her nomination in 2019 followed months of negotiations between the White House and Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township before a deal was reached. 

Since joining the Eastern District court in 2020, Davis has been overruled twice by the 6th Circuit, including on a procedural question on a prisoner's motion to vacate his conviction, according to a questionnaire she submitted to the panel. 

The more recent case involved a Democratic group that sought to invalidate Michigan's ban on transporting voters to the polls. Davis found that the transportation ban conflicted with U.S. election law and enjoined its enforcement, but a 6th Circuit panel overruled her 2-1, saying the federal law made exceptions for state laws.

If confirmed, Davis would fill a vacancy on the 6th Circuit that opened after Judge Helene White of Michigan took senior status. 

Davis was previously confirmed by the Senate to the district court by voice vote in December 2019.

mburke@detroitnews.com