U.S. senator Marco Rubio of Florida has withdrawn his support for a gay black Miami judge nominated for a federal judiciary position, keeping the nominee from receiving a Senate confirmation vote.
Rubio, a Republican, announced Monday that he would no longer support the nomination of Miami-Dade circuit judge William Thomas to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, citing concerns about Thomas’s rulings in two criminal cases, The New York Times reports. Nominees for federal judgeships need the support of both U.S. senators from their home state in order for the confirmation process to continue. Florida’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, has endorsed Thomas, who would be the nation’s first openly gay African-American federal judge.
Rubio said he was concerned that Thomas gave too light a sentence to a motorist who killed a bicyclist in a hit-and-run accident, but the lead prosecutor in that case said Thomas acted fairly and within the law. The driver was suspected of being intoxicated at the time, but since he did not turn himself in until the next day, his blood-alcohol level could not be measured, so there were limits on the charges that could be brought against him.
The senator also took issue with Thomas’s actions in a rape-murder case. Thomas ruled against admitting a confession as evidence in the case, saying two of the five defendants had not been read their rights properly or had not understood the information, and an appellate court agreed with part of his ruling. All five eventually either entered guilty pleas or were convicted.
Yolanda Strader, president of a Miami association for black lawyers, accused Rubio of playing politics with Thomas’s nomination. “As much as I would like to think that politics has nothing to do with this, it looks as if it does,” Strader told the Times. “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.” Her group is initiating a social media campaign in support of Thomas and may start an online petition to move his nomination forward.