Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Nomination of Judge Bernice Donald

Posted on September 6, 2011

Madam President, later today the Senate will consider the nomination by the President of Judge Bernice Donald for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Judge Donald is from Memphis, TN.  I know her well.  I am here today to introduce her to my colleagues and to encourage them to support her confirmation. 

Judge Donald has been before the Senate before.  She has been a Federal district judge since 1995.  Our Judiciary Committee in the Senate has looked over her qualifications again and has recommended her to us without dissent.  The American Bar Association has reviewed her credentials and said she is either qualified or well qualified.  

I think there is not much doubt about her fitness to serve on the court of appeals, so in my remarks I would like to talk more about Judge Donald's role in the community and her role as a pioneer in our country during her lifetime.  She is the sixth of 10 children.  Her parents were a domestic worker and a self-taught mechanic in DeSoto County, MS, which is just south of Memphis.  As a young person, she was among the first African Americans to integrate in her high school during the period of desegregation.  She obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of Memphis and graduated from its law school.  She focused her career at the beginning working among the most vulnerable citizens in Memphis in the Office of Legal Defender. 

Here is where the pioneer story continues, not just in desegregating her high school or working with vulnerable citizens, but only 3 years after she left law school, she began a judicial career that has spanned nearly three decades.  She became the first African-American female judge in the history of our State in 1982.  Six years later, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, upon which she has been nominated to serve by the President, appointed her to serve as U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Western District of Tennessee.  Again she made history -- an African-American female judge had been appointed as a bankruptcy judge in the United States.        Then, in 1995, as I mentioned earlier, President Clinton nominated her to be a Federal district judge.  On December 22 of that year the Senate confirmed her by unanimous voice vote, and she became the first African-American female district court judge in the history of Tennessee.  She served in that capacity for 15 years. 

She has flourished in her career, not just on the court but in her profession.  She has just concluded a 3-year term as Secretary of the American Bar Association, and she has previously served on its Committee on Governance and on its Board of Governors.  She has been equally active in the local and Tennessee bar associations.  She gives a good deal of her time to community organizations:  the Memphis Literacy Council, the University of Memphis alumni board, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Calvary Street Ministry, the YWCA, and others. 

It is coincidental, but I think it is fitting that Judge Bernice Donald, a pioneer in so many ways in our State's history, will be the first nomination for the Federal bench that this body will consider after the opening of the Martin Luther King Memorial in the Nation's Capitol.  Her life, which is full of education and service and achievement, is a testimonial to the success of Dr. King's movement and the kind of leadership he inspired. 

I commend her on all that she has accomplished both in her profession and in our State and in her community.  I know Memphis is proud of her.  I look forward to voting in favor of her confirmation this afternoon, and I hope my colleagues will do so as well.


I yield the floor.