Helene White

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Helene N. White
Helene White.JPG
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Assumed office
August 8, 2008
Appointed byGeorge W. Bush
Preceded bySusan Bieke Neilson
Personal details
Born (1954-12-02) December 2, 1954 (age 64)
New York City, New York
EducationColumbia University (A.B.)
University of Pennsylvania Law School (J.D.)

Helene N. White (born December 2, 1954) is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Previously, she was a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals.


Born in Jackson Heights, Queens in New York City, White graduated with an Artium Baccalaureus degree in economics from Barnard College of Columbia University in 1975 and the University of Pennsylvania Law School with a Juris Doctor in 1978.[1] She then clerked for two years for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Charles Levin, whom she would later marry and, in November 2006, divorce.[2] White then won an elected position on the Common Pleas Court for the City of Detroit, and in 1982 was elected to the Wayne County Circuit Court. White was elected to her position on the Michigan Court of Appeals in November 1992, and began serving in January 1993.

Sixth Circuit nomination under Clinton[edit]

On January 7, 1997, President Bill Clinton nominated White to a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that was created by the decision by Sixth Circuit Judge Damon Keith to shift to senior status. With the United States Senate controlled by Republicans during Clinton's entire second term, White's nomination languished for more than four years, chiefly because of objections from Michigan's Republican senator at the time, Spencer Abraham.

Abraham had been angry with Clinton because Abraham previously had aided the president in getting three Democratic judicial nominees from Michigan approved in the Republican-controlled Senate allegedly on the condition that Clinton make no more nominations to the federal courts from his state. When Clinton went ahead and nominated White contrary to the previous agreement, Abraham refused to give his approval of her, keeping White's nomination stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee without a hearing or committee vote. When Clinton later nominated Kathleen McCree Lewis in 1999 to a second Michigan vacancy on the Sixth Circuit, Abraham did not allow her to be processed in committee either.

Despite the delays, being picked to sit on a court just one notch below the U.S. Supreme Court "is like being hit by lightning," White told the Detroit News in an article that was published on October 17, 1999. "To say I'm going to pick up my jacks and go home is self-defeating. Why would I take them off the hook?" White acknowledged to the paper that she had considered withdrawing for "maybe 30 seconds." But at the time the article appeared, White told the paper she believed she would be given a fair hearing. "From everything I've heard, Sen. Abraham is a decent guy," White told the paper. "I have no reason to believe I won't get a hearing."

Ultimately, White's nomination was returned to the White House when Clinton's presidency ended. White's four year nomination remains one of the single longest federal appeals-court judicial nominations never given a full Senate vote, exceeded only by the failed nomination of Bush nominee Terrence Boyle from 2001 to 2007.

Sixth Circuit nomination and confirmation under Bush[edit]

When President George W. Bush took office in 2001, he quickly submitted Republican nominees to fill the two Michigan vacancies that Abraham had refused to allow Clinton to fill. However, Michigan's two Democratic senators, Carl Levin, who was the cousin of White's husband at the time, and Debbie Stabenow, who had defeated Abraham in the 2000 election, consistently tried to block all of Bush's circuit court nominees from Michigan, citing the fact that White and Lewis, who eventually died in October 2007, had never received up-or-down votes from the Senate during Clinton's presidency. The two senators were successful in the filibuster of Bush nominee Henry Saad, who later withdrew. But as part of the Gang of 14 deal in May 2005, they finally allowed the confirmation of stalled Bush nominees David W. McKeague, Richard A. Griffin and Susan Bieke Neilson.

After Neilson's death in 2006, there were again two Michigan vacancies on the Sixth Circuit. Bush quickly named Raymond Kethledge and Stephen J. Murphy III to fill the positions. However, after the Democrats regained control of the Senate in November 2006, Levin and Stabenow once again balked at confirming any further Bush nominees from Michigan to the Sixth Circuit.

On April 15, 2008, as part of a deal with Levin and Stabenow, Bush renominated White to the Sixth Circuit, more than eleven years after she was first nominated by Clinton. She replaced Murphy as the nominee to fill Neilson's vacated seat, while Murphy was given a Michigan district court nomination in exchange. In return for White's renomination, Levin and Stabenow agreed to allow Kethledge to be confirmed.

Another example of President Bush nominating one of President Clinton's previously stalled appellate nominees is the case of Judge Roger Gregory of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

White, along with Kethledge and Murphy, received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 7, 2008, less than a month after her nomination. White was pointedly questioned by Republican senators, who were angry that her nomination had been fast-tracked by the Democratic committee chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, past several other Bush circuit court nominees who had been waiting in committee for much longer periods of time during the 110th Congress. She was voted out of committee on June 12, 2008 by an 11-8 margin. All of the Republicans on the committee, except Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the committee during the Clinton administration, voted against her purportedly on the grounds that she had not provided the committee with copies of her unpublished judicial opinions that were later reversed by the Michigan Supreme Court. On June 24, 2008, she was confirmed by the full Senate by a 63-32 vote.[3] She received her commission on August 8, 2008. White was the ninth and final judge nominated to the Sixth Circuit by Bush and confirmed by the United States Senate.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Helene N. White, United States Department of Justice. Accessed May 28, 2009.
  2. ^ Abramowitz, Michael (5 May 2008). "Ye Shall Be Judged -- Not" – via washingtonpost.com.
  3. ^ "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 110th Congress - 2nd Session".

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Susan Bieke Neilson
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit