PROVIDENCE — State District Court Judge Melissa R. DuBose was introduced as a “daughter of Providence” who has overwhelming support from the Rhode Island legal community during a confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court in Providence.
If confirmed by the US Senate, DuBose will be the first person of color and first openly LGBTQ judge to serve on the court. She would fill a vacancy created by Judge William E. Smith, who has announced he intends to retire from regular active service and will assume senior status on Jan. 1, 2025.
DuBose, 55, taught history and civics in the Providence public school system for a decade, while earning a degree at Roger Williams University School of Law. She was a special assistant attorney general in the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office in the criminal division from 2005 to 2008, then served as senior legal counsel at Schneider Electric, in Foxboro, Mass., providing in-house legal support for the company’s global units and specializing in federal contracts, corporate compliance, ethics, and fair trade. Then-Governor Gina M. Raimondo appointed DuBose to the Rhode Island District Court and DuBose was confirmed in January 2019. She now works in Providence at the busiest courthouse in Rhode Island.
During the hearing, instead of focusing on her legal experience, Republican Senators John N. Kennedy of Louisiana and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee brought up a quote from DuBose in an article from more than 20 years ago.
The obscure article, which Kennedy said came from “the feminist press,” quoted DuBose as saying she had been in a “Marxist phase.”
“Are you still a Marxist?” Kennedy wanted to know.
The article was written by an undergraduate who was studying to be a teacher and interviewing DuBose, who was teaching in Providence public schools at the time. DuBose said she hadn’t known it was published until the day before the hearing.
DuBose said she had been a political science major in college and read about various political theorists, including Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Karl Marx, and the Tao Te Ching and texts of “The Analects” by Confucius.
Kennedy kept demanding to know if she was a Marxist. Blackburn asked DuBose if she would disavow the tenets of Marxism.
“I am not a Marxist, I do not espouse Marxist theory or ideology, I never have, I never will,” DuBose said, repeatedly.
Kennedy also questioned whether DuBose had ever watched a federal jury trial, in person or on television. (Federal trials aren’t televised.)
“Senator, I handle and preside over trials every single day as a state District Court judge,” DuBose said. “We follow the rules of evidence, criminal procedure, civil procedure, so I feel that with my experience that I am well suited and capable to make the transition from our state district court to our US District Court.”
Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, who had recommended DuBose along with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, said DuBose well qualified for the position.
“She grew up here, lived here, worked here, studied here, brought up her family here, lawyered here, and now judges here,” Reed said.
NOMINEE: Melissa DuBose to the District of Rhode Island— Senate Judiciary Committee (@JudiciaryDems) February 8, 2024
Judge DuBose has had an accomplished career – both in the private sector and in public service – and will make an outstanding district court judge.
If confirmed, she'll be the first person of color to serve on this court. pic.twitter.com/jSXxtBEFet
Her experience as a teacher has informed and molded her professional life, DuBose told the committee. “The skills of a classroom teacher, standing before 25 to 30 students who are coming into class with varying degrees of trauma, hopes, dreams, joys, and you’re trying to focus them with a common mission — it takes a lot of patience and the ability to listen,” she said, in answer to a question from Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii. “And so, meeting my students where they were has helped me to become an active listener and one who can empathize with the folks that I’m working with.”
Reed and Whitehouse, who is a ranking member on the committee, said DuBose’s nomination had the overwhelming support of the judges on the US District Court, whose ranks she’d be joining, the attorney general’s office, where she’d served as a prosecutor, the public defenders office, and the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, to name a few.
The US District Court for Rhode Island now includes Chief Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., Judge William E. Smith, Judge Mary S. McElroy and Magistrate Judges Lincoln D. Almond and Patricia A. Sullivan.
As DuBose thanked her family, her colleagues and friends, former students, and many who supported her, she recognized her mother, the late Rev. Sheila DuBose, who had been the pastor of Roger Williams Baptist Church in Providence. DuBose said she arrived in Washington, D.C., on Monday, on what would have been her mother’s 75th birthday.
“One of the greatest lessons that my mom taught me from a very early age is that on most occasions it’s OK to talk to strangers, that we don’t have to meet those we don’t know with suspicion,” DuBose told the committee. “When I think about that lesson, and appreciating and respecting the humanity in people, that has guided me and has served me well throughout my entire professional and personal life, as a Providence public school teacher, as a prosecutor, as an in-house corporate attorney, and certainly as a District Court judge.”
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who focuses on federal judicial selection, said he thought DuBose was impressive.
“Those were tough questions, and I thought she was clear, I thought she was comprehensive, and she showed she has been in a courtroom, because she can think on her feet,” Tobias said.
The confirmation hearings have become partisan, Tobias said. He thought DuBose had done a good job explaining the long-ago interview with a student that yielded the “Marxism phase” comment.
“I thought she was actually impressive, grounded in the community, and quite accomplished, and I liked the support from the two senators,” Tobias said. “I think she’ll be easily confirmed.”