President picks two Miami-Dade Circuit Court judges for South Florida’s federal bench

02/05/2014 1:43 PM

02/06/2014 12:05 AM

President Barack Obama, who has sparred with Republican lawmakers over his judicial appointments, said Wednesday he will nominate two Miami-Dade Circuit Court judges for two vacancies on the federal bench in South Florida.

The two nominees are Judges Beth Bloom and Darrin P. Gayles.

Bloom has served on the state circuit court since 2010 and previously on the county court, starting in 1995. The University of Miami School of Law graduate was chosen from among four finalists for the federal judicial opening in the Southern District of Florida.

Gayles, also among the four finalists, has served on the circuit court since 2011 and before on the county court, beginning in 2004. He graduated from George Washington University School of Law.

“Throughout their careers, these distinguished men and women have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to public service,” Obama said in a statement, referring to these two appointments and two other nominees in the Middle District of Florida. “I am confident they will serve the American people with distinction from the district court bench.”

White House officials noted that Gayles, if confirmed, would be the first openly gay male African-American federal judge — a distinction that previously generated political opposition to the president’s nomination of another Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge .

Last year, Obama's appointment of state Circuit Judge William L. Thomas as a federal judge for the Southern District of Florida ran into a dead-end. He was not renominated this year. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the conservative Republican from Miami, blocked Thomas’ appointment — after first backing him along with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Rubio’s opposition to Thomas stirred accusations of racism and homophobia. Rubio's office said it put a stranglehold on Thomas' confirmation because of his apparent softness in a pair of controversial DUI and murder cases — a characterization sharply disputed by Thomas supporters.

Thomas’ nomination was never heard by the U.S. Senate because of Rubio’s opposition.

In a statement, Rubio said he does not foresee having an objection with Gayles or the other three Florida nominees.

“I welcome today's four nominations to the district courts in Florida. As I previously indicated to the president, I do not anticipate having an objection to moving forward on any of these nominations pending the outcome of the customary background check conducted on every nominee,” Rubio stated.

“I am disappointed, however, that given the opportunity to fill four vacancies on the court, the White House has declined to nominate any of the Republican finalists jointly suggested by Senator Nelson and myself.”

Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said Gayles was one of several judges whom the senator indicated he could support for confirmation on a list provided to the White House.

Last year, Rubio joined 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.

Gay and lesbian advocacy groups praised the president’s selection of Gayles.

“We commend the administration for nominating a qualified jurist who will also add diversity to the federal bench,” said the Victory Institute, a national organization that only backs openly gay candidates.

SAVE Dade shared that view, saying “Gayles’ confirmation would represent a huge step forward for equality not only in South Florida but also for our nation as a whole.”

Last fall, the state's Federal Judicial Nominating Commission recommended the four finalists for the two vacancies on the bench in South Florida.

In September, the commission recommended Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judges Bloom, Gayles, Peter R. Lopez, and John W. Thornton Jr. to fill the two spots to be vacated by U.S. District Court Judges Patricia Seitz and Donald Graham. Both are stepping down to senior status with lighter caseloads.

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