Marco Rubio officially withdrew his nomination for what would have been the first openly gay male to serve as a federal judge.
Despite President Obama nominating Judge William Thomas to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida 10 months ago — with Rubio’s support — the senator’s withdrawal removes any chance of Thomas acquiring the position.
Officially, Rubio is citing two cases in which he believes Thomas was too lenient on defendants. However, some suspect that Rubio’s sudden reversal has more to do with appeasing far-right conservatives.
Yolanda Strader, president of a Miami association for African-American attorneys, told the New York Times, “As much as I would like to think that politics has nothing to do with this, it looks as if it does. 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.”
Thomas passed his background check months ago, and Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, had already approved the nomination. However, both Florida senators must grant approval for Thomas to make the bench.
Rubio and other conservatives have blocked several African-American judges appointed by the president. Had Thomas been confirmed, he would be the second gay African-American on a United States District Court bench.
A spokesperson for Rubio expressed concerns with Thomas’ “fitness” as a judge, stating, “Those concerns include questions about his judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences.”
Other justice officials have come out to defend Thomas’ decision on at least one of the cases in question.
Democratic Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida told the Times, “That is a slender reed for Senator Rubio to hang this on. Decisions in this country need to be made by females and Latinos and Asians and blacks.”
Currently, just 95 out of 787 federal judges are African American.