The White House has thrown in the towel in trying to confirm William Thomas to a federal court seat in Florida, signaling an end to a puzzling case of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blocking his own judicial nominee.I'm not sure how the process works now. Will the JNC reopen the interview process for that slot or will it send up the names it sent previously?
In a pile of about 200 nominees President Barack Obama resubmitted to the Senate at the start of the year, Thomas was noticeably absent. An administration official confirmed Tuesday that his resubmission isn't coming.
"The nomination of Judge William Thomas was returned by the Senate and Senator Rubio has made his objection clear, so the President chose not to renominate him," the official told The Huffington Post.
Thomas would have made history, if confirmed, as the first openly gay black man to serve as a federal judge.
Rubio has been single-handedly blocking Thomas for months, despite recommending him to Obama in 2012 as a nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Rubio indicated in September he would not submit his "blue slip" to the Senate Judiciary Committee -- a courtesy, but not a hard rule, honored in the committee that allows a home-state senator to advance or hold up a nominee. Florida's other senator, Bill Nelson (D), submitted his blue slip months ago.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has hinted in the past that he would revisit the blue slip process if Republicans abuse it. Asked for his thoughts on the White House sinking Thomas' nomination after Rubio used the blue slip rule to block him, Leahy said only, "Let me find out about that one."
There's a particular urgency to filling this Florida judgeship, which has been vacant for more than 20 months. The court backlog is so bad that the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has deemed it a “judicial emergency."
Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon said Tuesday she had nothing new to say regarding why Rubio became so adamant about blocking Thomas. She pointed to a past comment on the senator's concerns with the nominee.
"The nomination of Judge Thomas has also been thoroughly reviewed, and Senator Rubio has determined that Thomas’s record on the state court raises serious concerns about his fitness for a lifetime federal appointment. Those concerns include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences, particularly in the two high-profile cases of Michele Traverso and Joel Lebron last year. After reviewing Thomas’s record, Senator Rubio cannot support moving forward with the nomination," Sammon said.
HuffPost previously reviewed materials provided by Rubio's office that outlined the senator's justification for sinking Thomas' nomination, and nothing egregious stood out in either of the two cases. Instead, Rubio appears to be critical of Thomas for being too lenient in one case and too emotional in the other.
Florida Democratic lawmakers say Rubio's opposition is political as he tries to win back support from tea party members after angering them by advocating comprehensive immigration reform in 2012. Rubio's name has also been floated as a potential 2016 presidential contender.
"Judge Thomas is a well-qualified jurist," Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) told HuffPost in the fall. "There is a serious underrepresentation of minorities on the bench and partisan obstructionism isn’t making it any better."
2. Meantime, the Dems are not too happy with the President about the nominees in Georgia:
U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, has asked to testify against President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees for Georgia, another twist in a public dispute that pits Georgia’s Democratic members of Congress and civil rights community against the first black president’s White House.3. There's also an opening in Alabama:
Scott wrote a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on Friday to request an appearance at a yet-to-be scheduled hearing on a slate of six Georgia nominees.
Democrats have complained of being shut out of negotiations between White House officials and Georgia’s Republican senators, who have the power to block committee consideration for home-state judicial nominees by “blue slip” custom enforced by Leahy. Democrats are upset that only one of the six nominees is a minority, that Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs voted to keep the 1956 version state flag – with its Confederate battle emblem -- when he was in the state Senate and that attorney Mark Cohen defended the state’s voter ID law (even though he did so on behalf of then Attorney General Thurbert Baker, a Democrat).
“If confirmed, the federal bench in Georgia will not reflect the current demographics of the state for at least another generation. There will soon be only one active African-American district court judge in Georgia. In addition, the views of some of these nominees reflect the regressive politics of the past. I want to share some very important and critical background information with the Committee before these nominations are considered.
“It is an abomination that these nominees for lifetime appointment were drafted in secret, not vetted by any legal groups among the President’s supporters, and announced on a holiday weekend. We must not allow lifetime appointed judges to be rammed through the hearing process without sufficient input from the people who will be affected by their future judicial actions.”
Civil rights advocates are encouraging President Barack Obama to nominate an African-American to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would be a first from Alabama.
The high-level court, one step below the U.S. Supreme Court, has had only two black judges in its history, both from Florida.
The latest opening — created when Judge Joel Dubina of Montgomery took semi-retirement in October — will be the first chance a Democratic president has had to appoint someone from Alabama to the 11th Circuit, which was created in 1981.
Race is a significant issue for the Deep South circuit, which has a combined black population of about 7.2 million. The 11th Circuit hears appeals from Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and is a source of many high-profile discrimination cases involving voting, employment and redistricting.
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, is the lone black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation and said diversity should be a priority.
“I think now is not the time to falter on the president’s commitment to diversifying the bench, and that is especially true on the 11th Circuit,” Sewell said Tuesday. “Alabama has some very talented African-American lawyers who should be considered.”
And U.W. Clemon, Alabama’s first black federal judge who is now in private practice in Birmingham, is also hoping for a black nominee.
“It would be historic,” Clemon said.
The Alabama Democratic Party and an advisory committee to Sewell have interviewed several black candidates for the 11th Circuit job, and many of their names have been forwarded to the White House for consideration.