Biden judicial nominee grilled amid objections by GOP home state senators

Andre Mathis, a nominee to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, testifies during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
  • Tennessee Republican senators object to 6th Circuit nominee Andre Mathis
  • "Blue slip" process not enforced for circuit court nominees

(Reuters) - Senate Republicans on Wednesday criticized the White House for failing to sufficiently consult two Tennessee GOP senators about President Joe Biden's nomination of a lawyer from their state to sit on a federal appellate court over their objections.

Andre Mathis, a Memphis lawyer at the law firm Butler Snow, was the first Biden appellate pick to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee who lacked his home state senators' support, creating a test for the president's push to rapidly seat judges.

Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee called it "insulting" that the White House did not meaningfully consult her or fellow Senator Bill Hagerty about Mathis and that they did not even receive so-called "blue slips" to express their views on him.

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Committee Chair Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, conceded it was a mistake that the Tennessee senators did not receive those blue forms, which home-state senators historically needed to return for a nominee to be considered.

But Durbin said even if they had returned blue slips against Mathis, who is Black, it would not have mattered as Democrats are following a policy adopted by Republicans during the Trump administration of not heeding them for circuit nominees.

That helped former Republican President Donald Trump to secure the confirmation of 54 circuit court nominees during his four years, including many conservative judges who were appointed over the objections of home-state Democrats.

"My colleagues across the aisle I think would be hard pressed now to demand that Democrats reinstate this practice," Durbin said.

Blackburn said she had "serious concerns" about Mathis' experience and, with Hagerty, had identified an alternative pick, Camille McMullen, a Democratic appointee to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals who is also Black and is nearly a decade older than the 41-year-old Mathis.

She also said Mathis had a "rap sheet with a laundry list of citations" with speeding tickets that led to his driver's license being suspended three times from 2008 to 2011 for failure to pay or appear in court.

Mathis expressed regret about the tickets, which he forgot to pay. "I can assure the committee I'm a law abiding citizen," he said.

While GOP senators grumbled about their Tennessee colleagues' frustrations, Republican John Kennedy of Louisiana acknowledged that reviving the blue slips process now "would be perceived unfair to this administration."

He urged both sides to find a neutral way to revive the practice, which Durbin said was possible after the 2024 presidential election and "four years of trying to balance the books."

(NOTE: This article has been updated to note Camille McMullen is also Black.)

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.