Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

No more delays


OUR OPINION: Senate should not let federal judicial nominations languish

Exhibiting both an intent to keep bringing more diversity to the federal courts and an intense interest in getting his nominees actually approved by the Senate, President Obama has selected two Miami-Dade County circuit court judges to replace two Southern Florida U.S. District Court judges who are moving to senior status. The nominees, Judges Beth Bloom and Darrin P. Gayles, are well qualified for the federal bench and should receive the Senate’s nod.

The president also nominated Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge Carlos Eduardo Mendoza and an Orlando lawyer, Paul Byron, for federal judgships on the Middle Florida U.S. District Court. They, too, have impressive résumés and deserve confirmation.

Judge Gayles is making the biggest headlines, though, because, if approved, he would be the first openly gay African-American man to serve as a federal judge. Last year, President Obama nominated Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William L. Thomas, who is, like Judge Gayles, African American and gay. The nomination went nowhere after Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio flip-flopped, first supporting his nomination then turning against it, citing concerns over apparent softness in controversial DUI and murder cases.

No one has ever accused Judge Thomas of bias on the bench. But once Sen. Rubio dropped his support, Judge Thomas’ nomination was doomed. It was an embarrassment for Florida in every way.

Surely, the White House consulted the Rubio camp before announcing the latest nominations. Sen. Rubio issued a statement after the announcements, saying he welcomed the nominations and doesn’t “anticipate having an objection to moving forward” on them. That’s good to know, and we’ll hold him to his word.

When Mr. Rubio pulled his support for Judge Thomas’ nomination, some groups accused him of racism and homophobia. We’ve seen no evidence that either charge is true. Even as he voiced opposition to Judge Thomas, Mr. Rubio voted with 97 other senators to support the confirmation of Todd Hughes, a Justice Department attorney in Washington D.C., who became the first openly gay judge on a federal appellate court.

Still, Sen. Rubio, again along with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa did hold up the confirmation of another Obama appointee from Florida who is African American. Nassau County Circuit Judge Brian Davis waited almost two years, amid a controversy over accusations of bias, before his nomination was finally confirmed last December. This was after Judge Davis sent a letter to Sen. Grassley that apologized for “inappropriate statements.”

These delays of nomination votes have unfortunately become routine in gridlocked Washington. President Obama is hardly the first Oval Office occupant to see his federal judicial nominations languish in the Senate. But really, senators, almost two years to confirm a single judicial appointment?

The delays are driven, almost entirely, by crass partisanship. The result is U.S. District Court vacancies that go unfilled, literally, for years. That’s justice delayed, justice denied. And it’s entirely the fault of the U.S. Senate.

This editorial has been corrected to omit a reference in an earlier version that incorrectly said Sen. Grassley criticized Judge Thomas’ public statements. The earlier version also omitted the fact that Judge Davis send a letter of apology over “inappropriate statements” to Sen. Grassley.

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