By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Progress Florida, along with other left-leaning political groups, sent a letter to Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson of Florida asking them to quickly confirm four judges nominated to federal benches in Florida by President Obama.
Judicial confirmations in Congress have been at an all-time low during Obama’s administration—mostly thanks to a generally high level of obstructionism by political opponents in both the House and Senate. In a letter sent to lawmakers in 2010, Obama blasted Republican leadership for taking historically long to confirm federal judges.
According to The New York Times back in 2010, President Obama wrote, “a minority of Senators has systematically and irresponsibly used procedural maneuvers to block or delay confirmation votes on judicial nominees.”
“If there is a genuine concern about the qualifications of judicial nominees, that is a debate I welcome,” he added, but said that the current situation “does a disservice to the greatest traditions of this body and the American people it serves.”
According to Progress Florida, this problem has had a direct effect on Floridians.
In a letter signed by a coalition of immigration reform advocacy groups, civil rights groups and unions, Progress Florida writes:
Political obstruction in the halls of Congress has blocked well-qualified judicial nominees from being confirmed to the bench, resulting in critical court vacancies and a backlog of cases that makes it harder for Floridians to access their courts.
…Florida’s judicial system has suffered from the weight of an ever increasing backlog of cases that undermines our system of justice and makes it difficult for most Floridians to have their cases heard in a timely manner, delaying, and sometimes denying, justice for many.
Floridians deserve to have a fair and functioning judicial system and that requires a court system working at full capacity. Justice delayed remains justice denied. We, the undersigned organizations representing millions of Florida voters, urge you to move as quickly as possible to fill the four open seats on Florida’s district courts.
About a month ago, Obama nominated Judge Beth Bloom, Judge Robin L. Rosenberg and Judge Darrin P. Gayles for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida– and Judge Carlos Eduardo Mendoza and attorney Paul G. Byron for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
According to CNN, if Gayles were to be confirmed, he “would become the first openly gay male African-American on the federal bench.”
Gayles is nominated to serve in the Miami-based Southern District – the same federal bench where Obama first nominated William Thomas in November 2012, before eventually pulling the nomination last month. Thomas is also an openly gay African-American.
Thomas’ confirmation was blocked by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who originally signed a letter supporting the judge. In a statement, Rubio’s office said the senator questioned Thomas’ “judicial temperament” and other concerns.
Under arcane rules, a senator can unilaterally block the Senate from considering a nominee from his home state by refusing to return a so-called blue slip. There was no indication Rubio would oppose these latest choices.
The group of nominees Wednesday, which also includes two woman and one Hispanic judge, comes after outcry from civil rights leaders and African-American members of Congress who claim Obama’s record of nominees doesn’t reflect the diversity of their home regions.
In an op-ed in Florida Today, Progress Florida’s Mark Ferrulo wrote that the state’s judicial system is in a “crisis” because of these vacancies. Ferrulo explained that are political implications, as well.
Many of us still can’t forget the 2012 legislative session when state lawmakers placed draconian limits on our fundamental right to vote.
Our Legislature that year passed a law that restricted Floridians’ access to the ballot, particularly minorities, young voters and people with disabilities. These laws placed strict rules on registering new voters and dramatically limited early voting options so popular among middle-class Floridians.
We couldn’t stop the Legislature from passing these harmful provisions, so we turned to the federal courts. The judges held our fate in their hands. One federal court, in a decision by a Clinton-appointed judge, struck down the strict rules on registering new voters. Another federal court, in a decision by a George W. Bush-appointed judge, upheld the law that severely limited early voting.
Any observer of lawmaking in Florida has learned by now that no matter what happens in our Legislature, the final decision when it comes to laws that affect our day-to-day lives is more often than not made by a judge. That’s why our courts matter.
Rubio told NPR last month that “he welcomes the president’s nominations.”
He said in a statement to NPR, that he does “not anticipate having an objection to moving forward on any of these nominations pending the outcome of the customary background check conducted on every nominee.”