Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has withdrawn his support of a gay African-American judge from Miami who was poised to make the leap to the federal bench, and possibly savaged the nominee’s professional reputation in the process. According to the New York Times, critics of the decision are crying foul, saying that Rubio is playing politics with the nomination to win back the support of the far right.
Rubio was in favor of Judge William Thomas’ nomination before he was against it. The junior Senator supported President Barack Obama’s choice to appoint Thomas to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida 10 months ago, but that was before Rubio saw his credibility with far-right conservatives wither over his support of comprehensive immigration reform.
Now, suddenly, Rubio’s office is citing Thomas’ handling of two criminal cases as the Senator’s reason for suddenly turning cold on the nomination, officially dooming its chances of going through. Thomas — who grew up living on food stamps in a Philadelphia family of 10 children — would have been the first African-American openly gay man to sit on the federal bench.
“As much as I would like to think that politics has nothing to do with this, it looks as if it does,” said attorney Yolanda Strader to the Times. Strader is president of Miami’s largest association of African-American attorneys.
“It would be unfair,” Strader said, “to prevent a well-qualified judicial nominee from proceeding with the nomination process because he is an openly gay black male.”
A spokesperson for Rubio’s office told the Times that the Senator is questioning Thomas’ “fitness” for the bench. “Those concerns include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences.”
However, other Florida officials have contacted Rubio’s office with assurances that Thomas ruled well within the bounds of the law in one of the two cases, which involved a hit and run death by an intoxicated driver. The other involved a death sentence that caused the judge to openly cry in court as he handed it down.
Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald blogged that not only has Rubio killed Thomas’ nomination, “Then he tried to murder the judge’s reputation.”
By calling into question Thomas’ “judicial temperament,” Grimm wrote, the Senator is potentially sabotaging his past and future rulings. The Herald writer described the moment in court that Rubio’s office is referring to:
It was a death sentence. Judge Thomas added six life sentences. Tears came as he described the horrendous kidnapping, gang rape and murder of 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel in 2002. The judge told how the killer held a pistol to her head and pulled the trigger three times before the gun fired. “With each pull of the trigger, Ana Maria must have labored under the constant fear that her death was imminent,” Judge Thomas said. And he wept. Miami Herald courts reporter David Ovalle was there as emotions engulfed the courtroom. Nothing about the judge’s demeanor struck Ovalle as inappropriate. “But all this is to pretend that Rubio had some reason other than crass Tea Party politics for sabotaging Judge Thomas’ reputation and aborting the confirmation process,” wrote Grimm. “So the Thomas nomination won’t get a hearing, much less a vote.”
“Because, you know,” he said, “he just lacks the right ‘judicial temperament.’”