U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s office on Thursday said he lifted his opposition to a black judicial nominee from North Florida and explained why he objects to the nomination of an openly gay black Miami judge.
Brooke Sammon, a spokeswoman for Rubio, said what is called a “blue slip” will be submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow a confirmation hearing for Nassau Circuit Judge Brian Davis to fill a vacancy in the Middle District of Florida.
However, Rubio stood steadfast in blocking the nomination of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William L. Thomas for a Miami vacancy.
The Republican senator agreed earlier in the process to forward both names to President Barack Obama. Once they were nominated, Rubio refused to submit blue slips. They are required from home-state senators to allow Judiciary Committee review of nominees.
With Senate Republicans running a long backlog on Obama’s judicial nominees, Davis had been waiting more than 500 days for Rubio’s blue slip and Thomas more than 300 days. There are 92 vacancies on the federal district and appellate courts and 42 nominees waiting to be confirmed.
Davis’ nomination drew opposition last year from the ranking Republican on the committee, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
“After carefully reviewing Judge Davis’ record, I have concluded that Judge Davis views the world through a lens that I think is inappropriate and unacceptable for a federal court judge,” Grassley said in June 2012.
Grassley cited comments made by Davis in 1994 when he suggested Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign as U.S. surgeon general because she is black. In a 1995 speech, he also suggested Henry W. Foster Jr. was filibustered as Elders’ successor because he was black.
Sammon said Davis has addressed Rubio’s concerns.
“After thoroughly reviewing the objections to Judge Davis by Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Rubio has determined that Davis has adequately addressed these concerns, particularity in a letter sent to him on Friday,” she said.
Rubio’s switch came a day after the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association, the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, the Haitian Lawyers Association and the NAACP held a news conference at the federal court complex in Miami calling on the senator to explain why he was blocking the nominations.
The situation is different for Thomas, Rubio’s office said.
“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,” Sammon said. “Those concerns include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences, particularly in the two high-profile cases.”
Rubio’s office mentioned the case of Michele Traverso, who killed a cyclist in a hit-and-run accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway while driving on a suspended license. Thomas sentenced Traverso in January to less than a year in jail.
Also noted was the death sentence imposed in January on Joel Lebron for the notorious 2002 gang rape and murder of 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel, who was kidnapped along with her boyfriend while walking on Miami Beach. Thomas wept as he recalled the brutality of the crime before handing down the sentence.
In the meantime, four finalists were named Wednesday for two openings on the Miami federal bench. Miami-Dade Circuit Judges Beth Bloom, Darrin Gayles, Peter Lopez and John Thornton were selected by the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission.
All four are serving in the civil division. Thornton, who oversees the complex business division, has been chosen as a finalist before.
The openings were created when U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz took senior status last November and by U.S. District Judge Donald Graham’s plan to take senior status in December.
The finalists will be interviewed by U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Rubio, who make recommendations to Obama.