Senate Democrats are moving to push through President Biden’s choice for a plum circuit court judgeship, despite the nominee having a criminal record and GOP lawmakers being offered little input.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is moving forward on Mr. Biden’s nomination of Andre Mathis of Tennessee to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The confirmation process advances over the objection of Tennessee’s two Republican senators, who say they have been blindsided by both congressional Democrats and the White House.
The lawmakers, Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, argue that the White House ignored Congress’ longstanding rules and traditions governing the nominations process.
“The White House communicated with our offices about Mr. Mathis’s nomination a total of two times,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was obtained exclusively by The Washington Times.
They say that administration officials solicited little input before tapping Mr. Mathis, a Memphis-based trial lawyer who has recently come under fire for repeatedly driving with a suspended license. Both Mrs. Blackburn and Mr. Hagerty say the existence of a criminal record coupled with Mr. Mathis’ lack of experience raises serious questions about his fitness for the post.
“Joe Biden nominated someone with a rap sheet to be a federal judge in Tennessee,” said Mrs. Blackburn, who serves on the Judiciary Committee. “Mr. Mathis’s rap sheet shows that he believes himself to be above the law, just like the president who nominated him.”
According to the lawmakers, the White House first broached the subject of nominating Mr. Mathis during a virtual meeting in June 2021. At the time, administration officials said they were just considering Mr. Mathis and would consult before making any decision.
The senators’ staff met with Mr. Mathis for over an hour in the weeks following, but said they felt he was not a proper fit for the judgeship, given that he had never presided over a courtroom. Instead, they suggested various other candidates for the position.
The lawmakers did not hear back from the White House until last Nov. 17, when administration officials announced that Mr. Mathis was their nominee.
“We expected a collaborative conversation with the White House about” Mr. Mathis’s candidacy, the lawmakers wrote. “Instead, we were met with over four months of silence.”
According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, the median number of days from a nomination to committee hearing for a circuit court judge was 55 days under President Trump, and 76 days under President Obama. Thursday will mark 57 days since Mr. Mathis’ nomination.
Similarly, the lawmakers say that the Judiciary Committee scheduled hearings on the nomination before getting their sign-off as is customary within the Senate.
Generally, senators are given wide consultation before residents of their states are considered for a federal posting. The senator’s input is even more explicit if the appointment is to a position with a direct purview of the state, such as the Sixth Circuit.
The lawmakers claim that the Judiciary Committee, led by Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, did not request their sign-off on Mr. Mathis’ hearing until after it was already scheduled. They further claim that paperwork requesting their approval to move forward was backdated and not presented for review until the morning of Jan. 6.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said the process of requiring sign-off from home-state lawmakers on circuit court nominees was axed during the Trump administration by Republicans. When Democrats took over the Senate earlier this year, according to Mr. Durbin, they kept the policy in place.
“My colleagues across the aisle, I think, would be hard-pressed now to demand that Democrats reinstate this practice,” said Mr. Durbin.
The Judiciary Committee’s majority staff did not return requests for comment on this story.
The push by the White House and Senate Democrats to approve Mr. Mathis comes as his criminal record has become public knowledge.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation background check on Mr. Mathis undertaken after nomination indicates he repeatedly drove with a suspended license. According to the federal documents, Mr. Mathis has had his license suspended no less than three times because of driving-related citations.
During the period in which his license was suspended, amounting to roughly 20 months altogether, the nominee continued to operate his vehicle against the law.
In Tennessee, the offense is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. The punishment increases in scale for repeat offenders, like Mr. Mathis.
Mr. Hagerty’s office said the revelation of a criminal record warrants further scrutiny of the tactics the White House and Senate Democrats have taken in running with the nomination.
“Not only did the Biden White House decline to meaningfully engage with Senators Hagerty and Blackburn, it appears that they failed to properly vet this nominee for a federal judgeship in Tennessee,” said Judd Deere, a spokesman for Mr. Hagerty. “By rushing ahead with this confirmation process despite reasonable, outstanding questions regarding the nominee’s apparent past disregard for the law, Democrats are prematurely handing out a lifetime judicial appointment.”
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that senators met with Mr. Mathis when it was the senators’ staff at the meeting.