At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Republicans brought up three traffic tickets – all a decade or more old – that a federal appeals court nominee was issued and apparently failed to pay, leading to his license being suspended for several months.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the committee, was the first to bring up the unpaid tickets. He said that the senators were concerned about 6th Circuit nominee Andre Mathis’ “failure to appear in court and about extended periods of driving without a license.”
Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee also referred to the citations, calling it a “rap sheet” as she discussed her additional concerns about Mathis’ legal experience and certain procedural issues he had in filing legal briefs in the past.
“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 said. “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.”
Mathis, a Memphis-based attorney, is a partner at the white shoe law firm Butler Snow who has attracted plaudits from Democrats for his extensive pro bono work representing indigent defendants.
If confirmed, he would be the first Black man to serve on the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals from Tennessee.
His nomination, however, was already contentious going into Wednesday’s hearing because he is the first Biden circuit court nominee who is moving through the confirmation process without the support of his home state senators, who are both Republicans.
Mathis said at Wednesday’s hearing that he did not recall the first ticket, apparently issued in 2008, nor did he remember his license being suspended. He said that when he learned in 2011 his license had been suspended because of a 2010 ticket he forgot to pay, he rectified it. The third ticket was apparently issued in 2009 or 2010, according to a letter he sent the committee obtained by CNN, but like the 2008 ticket, he did not remember being notified that his license had been suspended or how it had been resolved.
“I regret that I did those things. I can assure the committee that I’m a law-abiding citizen. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never been charged with a crime,” Mathis said at the hearing.
Blackburn’s mention of the citations raised eyebrows among other members of the committee.
“Senator Blackburn refers to your ‘rap sheet,’ as what she called it,” Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said. “Well, if speeding tickets are a rap sheet, I’ve got one too. I never got a speeding ticket for driving five miles over the limit, which apparently is one of your tickets.”
“We’ve all – I think – have been guilty of that sin and perhaps all have a rap sheet that’s maybe six miles over or more,” he later added.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker – when it was his turn to question Mathis, who is Black – said that it in his experience growing up he and his brother were pulled over more than his White high school friends. Mathis responded that he took “responsibility for my actions. I don’t want to blame anything or anyone else for what I do.”
Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, seemed to express some sympathy with Mathis for his dealings with the DMV, as he recounted a year that he spent trying to get his son’s lost driver’s license renewed.