Fort Pierce is on the verge of getting its first permanent sitting federal judge.
President Obama nominated Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William L. Thomas to the federal bench in the Southern District of Florida.
If confirmed, Thomas will be assigned to the new federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno told the Daily Business Review.
Thomas will also be the first gay black man on the federal bench.
“I am extremely proud of the fact that President Obama’s Administration only looks to who is the most qualified for the job and not exclude people for who they are or whom they love,” said Miami attorney Kirk Wagar, a partner at Wagar Law who also served as Obama’s finance chair for Florida during the president’s re-election campaign.
“Judge Thomas would not have even received an interview under most, if not all, past administrations.”
Thomas, who declined comment, has served on the state court bench in Miami since 2005 after working seven years as an assistant federal public defender for the Southern District of Florida. Previously, he worked as an assistant public defender for Miami-Dade County.
He received his law degree in 1994 from the Temple University School of Law in Philadelphia.
Thomas would fill the vacancy created when former U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The slot was then designated to Fort Pierce, which has a new courthouse.
The decision to put a permanent sitting judge in the district’s northern most outpost reflects the growing number of cases filed in the area.
Moreno confirmed Wednesday that the Jordan vacancy has been assigned to Fort Pierce.
The Federal Judicial Nominating Commission forwarded three names for the vacancy to U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio: Thomas, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John W. Thornton Jr. and Palm Beach Circuit Judge Robin Rosenberg.
Thomas must still be interviewed in a public confirmation hearing by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and requires a vote by the entire Senate.
Thomas was one of seven nominations for the federal bench made by Obama on Wednesday. The president noted the group represented “my continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves.”
He also urged the Senate to move on the nominations.
“Too many of our courtrooms stand empty.” Obama said. “I hope the Senate will promptly consider all of my nominees and ensure justice for everyday Americans.”
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., echoed those remarks on Wednesday: “If we do not find a solution to both the vacancy crisis and the threat to judicial resources, it will be harder for Americans to obtain justice in our federal courts.”
During Obama’s first term, Republicans slowed down the nomination process, leaving numerous judicial vacancies unfilled around the country. They then fought the White House over recess appointments made by the president.
Miami attorney Brian Tannebaum, partner at Tannebaum Wise and past president of Florida Association Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he worked with Thomas at the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office.
“He is one of the most efficient judges I have ever appeared before,” Tannebaum said. “His experience as a trial lawyer and judge will be a great addition to the Southern District.”
Some blogs touted the decision as historic since Thomas will be the first gay black man to serve on the federal bench.
“Any time there is a first in the judiciary, it’s important,” Tannebaum said. “Whether it’s the first female African-America judge, the first Haitian-American judge or the first gay black male judge. Those are important moments for the judiciary.”
The first openly gay black judge to ascend to the federal bench was Deborah Batts, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Batts presides in the Southern District of New York.