After 131 years, a Black man will be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Andre Mathis had the longest waiting period of any nominee for the Sixth Circuit, with a 10-month gap between his nomination and his appointment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has existed for 131 years but has never included a Black man from Tennessee — until now.

According to The Memphis Commercial Appeal, Andre Mathis — who was raised in South Memphis — will be the second Black Tennessean to serve on the circuit court and the first Black man from the state to be appointed following a 48–47 Senate vote on Thursday. 

“Memphians can be proud of this appointment and confirmation of the first African American man from Tennessee to serve on the Sixth Circuit,” said Democratic Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis, who made Mathis’ recommendation to President Joe Biden’s administration, The Commercial Appeal reported.

Memphis-raised attorney Andre Mathis (above) is the first Black man from Tennessee to be appointed to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. (Photo: Screengrab/

Mathis, a Cecil C. Humphrey’s School of Law graduate, was a partner at Butler Snow in Memphis when he was nominated in 2021. There, he was a part of the Labor and Employment Group, as well as the Commercial Litigation Group.

As a board member for both The Boys and Girls Clubs of Memphis and Street Ministries, he has also been actively involved with a number of groups that assist low-income adolescents.

“I am confident Judge Mathis will dispense impartial justice and admirably perform his important duties,” Cohen maintained, according to The Commercial Appeal.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Martha Blackburn was particularly critical of Mathis’ nomination and reportedly took a racially charged approach in voicing her concerns. Referring to Mathis’ prior speeding citations as a “rap sheet,” Blackburn eventually joined the Senate members who opposed Mathis’ appointment.

“It has been made public that he has a rap sheet with a laundry list of citations, including multiple failures to appear in court in Tennessee,” Blackburn previously said in a hearing, according to The Nashville Tennessean. “We expect our judges to respect the law, not disregard it. If Mr. Mathis thought he was above the law before, imagine how he’ll conduct himself if he’s confirmed.”

According to Reuters, she also found it “insulting” that the White House didn’t communicate with her or fellow Senator Bill Hagerty about Mathis and that they weren’t even sent “blue slips” — which home-state senators have traditionally been required to return for a nominee to be taken into consideration — to express their opinions on him.

Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy was the lone Republican to join his Democratic colleagues in last week’s vote in favor of Mathis.

The sixth circuit court has judicial authority over the district courts in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan. Mathis had the longest waiting period of any nominee for the Biden circuit, with a 10-month gap between his nomination and appointment, The Commercial Appeal reported.

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