US Senate Confirms Fowlkes Appointment

By Bill Dries

The U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment of John Fowlkes Jr. as the newest U.S. District Court Judge for Western Tennessee.

The 94-2 Senate floor vote Tuesday, July 10, included aye votes from Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, Mississippi Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker and Arkansas Senators Mark Pryor and John Boozman.

Fowlkes, a Shelby County Criminal Court Judge, was nominated in December by President Barack Obama on the recommendation of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis.

Alexander and Corker concurred in the recommendation.

“Everyone consulted had the highest praise for Judge Fowlkes’ legal acumen, unquestionable integrity and work ethic,” Cohen said in a written statement that followed the Senate vote. “Judge Fowlkes is highly intelligent, well respected and admired throughout Memphis and Shelby County for his commitment to the law.”

The confirmation means a return to the Odell Horton-Clifford Davis Federal Building where Fowlkes worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney earlier in a career that has also included time as a public defender, assistant district attorney and Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer under then-Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

It also creates a vacancy in Criminal Court to be filled by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

While his experience as a prosecutor and defender are common among members of the judiciary, Fowlkes’ experience as the No. 2 executive in county government running day-to-day operations is unusual.

Judge Hardy Mays served as legal counsel, deputy to the governor and chief of staff to former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist before becoming a federal judge.

As CAO, Fowlkes was involved in the Wharton administration’s efforts to change the local criminal justice system. There and as a criminal court judge, Fowlkes was adamant that the system should focus on repeat offenders and work more with first-time non- violent offenders to keep them from becoming repeat offenders.

Fowlkes was appointed to the Criminal Court bench in 2008 by then-Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen.

He fills a vacancy in the federal district court from when Judge Bernice Donald was appointed to the U.S. Sixth Court of Appeals.

His appointment brings the Memphis bench up to its full complement of four judges and the western district to its full complement of six, including the two federal judges in Jackson.

The district has four magistrate judges and has been using five visiting judges as well to handle some matters short of a full docket.