By Mark D. Killian
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, has put a hold on the confirmation of Fourth Circuit Judge Brian J. Davis, who has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Middle District of Florida bench.
“Several Republican senators have expressed concerns with his nomination, so we’re doing our due diligence and reviewing his nomination before proceeding,” Brooke Sammon, deputy press secretary for Rubio, told the News.
President Barack Obama nominated Davis to the federal bench in February 2012, but the full Senate has yet to take up the Fernandina Beach judge’s confirmation. Davis’ nomination passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 10-7 party line vote on June 21, 2012.
Rubio, who supported Davis’ nomination and introduced him, along with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, at his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, exercised his privilege to hold up the process after Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and others voiced opposition to Davis’ nomination.
“After carefully reviewing Judge Davis’ record, I have concluded that Judge Davis views the world through a lens that I think is inappropriate and unacceptable for a federal court judge,” Grassley said in a statement posted on his Senate website.
Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, referenced a number of comments Davis, who is black, made in speeches in the 1990s for his opposition, including suggesting in a 1994 speech that U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was forced out of office because she was black, and in 1995 suggesting Dr. Henry W. Foster, Jr., who President Clinton nominated to replace Elders, was filibustered because he, too, was black. Grassley also singled out remarks Davis made in 1995 criticizing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for his opinions in rulings affecting affirmative action and voting rights.
Sen. Grassley said Judge Davis was asked about these statements in his hearing and, instead of disassociating himself from the remarks, “chose to give a long and completely nonresponsive answer about his effort to get people engaged in racial issues in their community.”
Sen. Grassley said: “At the end of the day, his repeated emphasis on negative and fact-deficient examples to motivate a particular audience concerns me deeply and makes me wonder about his own judgment.”
When contacted by the News, Judge Davis declined to comment on the nomination process.
According to a story published in the Florida Times Union, Davis, at his confirmation hearing, said he made those remarks in an attempt to engage the Jacksonville community on the topic of race. But, in hindsight, he believed they were inappropriate for a sitting judge and said be would not use that kind of language again.
“It is extremely disappointing to see that Sen. Rubio, having previously recommended and supported Judge Brian Davis as a federal district judge, is now permitting Sen. Grassley from Iowa to hold up his confirmation,” said Jacksonville lawyer John A. DeVault III. “Judge Davis was an effective assistant state attorney, is an outstanding trial judge, highly qualified, and has support throughout this state.”
DeVault said the ABA and the nominating committee jointly appointed by Senators Nelson and Rubio ranked him “extremely well qualified” for the position.
“It is most disappointing to see our senator yield to political pressure, and fail to stand up for someone so well qualified to serve as a federal district judge,” DeVault said.
Davis has served as a Fourth Circuit judge since 1994. A former prosecuting attorney under State Attorney Ed Austin, in 1991 Davis was named the first black chief assistant state attorney in Florida by State Attorney Harry Shorstein. Davis received a B.A. from Princeton University and his law degree from University of Florida, where he was member of Law Review.