Judge Darrin P. Gayles (J. Albert Diaz)
In a day of historic firsts in the U.S. Senate on the judicial front, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Darrin P. Gayles on Monday became the first African-American, openly gay man to be confirmed as a federal judge.
Gayles, who was approved 98-0, had the votes of both Florida senators. He was nominated along with Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beth Bloom to replace U.S. District Judges Patricia Seitz and Donald Graham, who became senior judges in Miami.
Gayles was chosen by President Barack Obama in February after U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., blocked the appointment of another openly gay black judge, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas.
Obama turned around and nominated Gayles, another openly gay judge from the same court. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Gayles on May 8.
The former state and federal prosecutor has been a circuit judge since 2011 after serving in county court. He did not return a call for comment by deadline by deadline.
Attorney Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, a member of Duane Morris’ diversity and inclusion committee, said the vote was a victory for anybody who wants good judges and diversity on the bench.
“He stands on his own merits and not just as a good political result,” Rodriguez-Taseff said. “Judges put on a robe to take on all sorts of cases, and the fact that he is an African-American gay man, while a source of pride, should not limit us from looking at the true fact that he is an exceptional jurist.”
That said, Rodriguez-Taseff added the confirmation vote shows politics can be removed from the selection of judges.
Equality Florida greeted the confirmation as “cause for all fair-minded Floridians to celebrate.”
“There was a time when racism and homophobia would have prevented the best candidate from being appointed,” Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith. “Today’s confirmation is a testament to Judge Gayles’ impressive resume and a sign of the progress we’ve made as a society.”
Gayles benefitted from a maneuver last November by Senate Democrats to speed up consideration of presidential nominees. A lower threshold was adopted to end procedural roadblocks on the Senate floor, and the pace of judicial confirmations has speeded up.
Bloom’s nomination is still pending, but Gayles is the second Florida judge to be confirmed by the Senate in little more than a month. U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenbaum in Fort Lauderdale was confirmed in May to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and sworn in June 2.
Gayles also was part of a historic day for judicial nominees.
The Senate also confirmed Staci Yandle as the first openly gay federal judge to sit in Illinois. She squeaked through on a 52-44 vote. It was the first time in history the Senate has confirmed two openly gay judges on the same day.
The Eastern District of Washington also got its first Hispanic judge when Superior Court Judge Salvador Mendoza was confirmed 92-4.
With Tuesday’s confirmations, Obama has now appointed more female and Hispanic judges than any other president.
The White House released a statement in May saying Obama’s judicial picks “represent his unprecedented commitment expanding the diversity of our nation’s highest courts.”
Obama was recognized in 2011 for nominating a higher percentage of minorities to federal judgeships than any other president.
Glenn Sugameli, a senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife in Washington, has taken on a watchdog role on Obama’s judicial nominees. He said the vote on Gayles illustrates public discord over the need to fill a record number of judicial vacancies.
“When Senator Rubio refused to even allow a committee hearing on the previous nomination of Judge William Thomas, it ignited major grassroots and media outrage,” he said.
Coral Gables criminal defense attorney David Tucker collected 2,148 signatures on an electronic petition supporting Thomas.
“I am happy that Judge Gayles does not have to endure the same process as Judge Thomas,” Tucker said. “Judges get to be ‘judged’ on their legal acumen and demeanor—and not anything else. Judge Gayles will be a wonderful addition to the bench in the Southern District of Florida.”