Rubio withdraws support for nomination of gay black judge to federal bench

Marco Rubio

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has withdrawn his support for the nomination of an openly gay Miami judge after expressing concerns about the judge’s “fitness” for the federal bench.

Judge William L. Thomas, who currently serves on the Miami-Dade Circuit Court, was nominated last November by President Obama to an opening on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Marco Rubio

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Initially, Thomas’ appointment was supported by Rubio and Florida’s other U.S. Senator, Democrat Bill Nelson.

Since judicial nominees must secure the approval of both senators in their home state, Rubio’s lack of support effectively block Thomas’ nomination from moving forward.

Rubio said his concerns “include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences.”

The New York Times reported that Rubio, who after a lengthy delay approved the nomination last week of another black Florida judge to the federal bench, said in a statement on Wednesday that he had concerns about the judge’s actions in two criminal cases.

William L. Thomas

William L. Thomas

In one of the cases, involving a sentencing in a hit-and-run, Rubio’s criticism that the sentence was too lenient was blunted by both the lead prosecutor in the case and the administrative judge for 11th Judicial Circuit criminal division, who said Thomas acted fairly and well within the law.

In the other case, Rubio also expressed concern over Judge Thomas’s decision to keep out a confession in a murder case involving five defendants in which a young woman was raped and shot to death, and her boyfriend left for dead.

Thomas ruled that two of the defendants in the case, including a 15-year-old, either had not been properly read their Miranda rights or had not understood them. The rulings were appealed and Thomas was partially affirmed by the appellate court.

Rubio and other Republicans have also come under fire from the Congressional Black Caucus for holding up President Obama’s judicial nominations, several of whom are black judges.

The Caucus said that out of 787 federal positions, only 95 are held by black judges.

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“As much as I would like to think that politics has nothing to do with this, it looks as if it does,” said Yolanda Strader, president of Miami’s largest association for black lawyers.

“It would be unfair to prevent a well-qualified judicial nominee from proceeding with the nomination process because he is an openly gay black male,” she said.

Had Thomas been confirmed by the Senate, he would have become only the second out LGBT African-American to serve as a United States District Court judge.

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