Politics

‘Skinny kid from Liberty City’ confirmed by Senate for lifetime federal judgeship

Judge Rodney Smith, shown during a 2014 trial, has worked as a lawyer and judge in Miami-Dade since 1999. He has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as a district judge for the Southern District of Florida.
Judge Rodney Smith, shown during a 2014 trial, has worked as a lawyer and judge in Miami-Dade since 1999. He has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as a district judge for the Southern District of Florida. Miami Herald Staff

The U.S. Senate confirmed two Florida judges to lifetime positions on Wednesday, the latest effort by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to fill vacancies and reshape the federal courts.

Rodney Smith and Thomas Barber were confirmed by the full Senate after the judiciary committee recommended them with support from Republicans and some Democrats. Both of their nominations were supported by Sen. Marco Rubio and former Sen. Bill Nelson, and they were renominated by Trump early this year. Smith was confirmed by a 78-18 margin while Barber was confirmed by a 77-19 margin.

Smith, who has worked as a lawyer and judge in Miami-Dade County since 1999, will serve as a district judge for the Southern District of Florida which includes Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties. He worked as an assistant state attorney in Miami-Dade County and an assistant city attorney for the city of Miami Beach before becoming a state-level judge in 2012. Smith is also a member of the Federalist Society, a nationwide group of conservative lawyers that seeks to interpret the law as written and plays a large role in Republican Supreme Court nominations.

“I applaud today’s confirmation of Judge Rodney Smith and Judge Tom Barber, both of whom enjoy strong, bipartisan support — as evidenced by their Senate confirmation votes — and were identified and recommended as highly qualified individuals by the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission last Congress,” Rubio said in a statement. “I am confident that Judges Smith and Barber will continue their record of exemplary service as federal district court judges.”

Smith, who became close with Rubio, was questioned by Democrats over his decision to impose a life sentence without parole for a juvenile in 2008 and for his Federalist Society activities. The Miami Times said Smith once described himself as “the skinny kid from Liberty City.”

Smith’s appointment means that Trump’s three publicly announced nominees for the Southern District of Florida were all successfully installed on the federal bench. Roy Altman, Venezuelan-born Miami lawyer, was confirmed in April while Miami judge Rodolfo Ruiz was confirmed in May. Both received support from Democrats and Republicans.

Barber will serve as a district judge in the Middle District of Florida, which stretches from Jacksonville to Naples and includes Orlando and Tampa. His legal career began in Tampa in the 1990s and in 2008 he was appointed by then-Governor Charlie Crist to serve as a circuit judge, and he won an election for the seat in 2016.

“Our state and nation needs qualified individuals committed to fairly and accurately interpreting our Constitution and laws, not activist judges,” Sen. Rick Scott said in a statement. “These two men have demonstrated their commitment to the principles of this nation and constitutional jurisprudence. Judge Barber and Judge Smith have impressive records of honorably serving the State of Florida, and I am proud to support their appointment to the federal bench today.”

Both judges had their confirmation hearings in October 2018, when Democrats were out of town campaigning ahead of Election Day. Democrats skipped the hearing and the three Republicans in attendance asked mostly softball questions to a group of judicial nominees. Smith’s son sat on his lap at the end of the hearing and spoke to Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy.

“Vote for my daddy,” he said.

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