Obama nominates second gay black judge to federal bench

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After his first attempt to nominate an out African-American judge to the federal bench was blocked by Sen. Marco Rubio, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday his intent to try again. 

According to a release from the White House, Obama will nominate Darrin Gayles to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Gayles, who has served as a circuit court judge for Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit since 2011 and previously served as a county judge for the same circuit from 2004 to 2011, was endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund for his bid for re-election in 2012. 

His nomination comes after Obama chose not to resubmit the nomination William Thomas to the Senate at the start of 2014. Thomas, who is also African-American and gay, was nominated by Obama in November 2012 to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida — the same bench to which Obama today nominated Gayles. However, Thomas’s nomination hit an unexpected roadblock when Rubio retracted his support for Thomas. 

In a statement to The Huffington Post, a spokeswoman for the Florida Republican said Rubio could not support moving forward with Thomas’s nomination after a review of his record raised “serious concerns” over his “judicial temperament” and “willingness to impose appropriate criminal sanctions.” 

If confirmed, Gayles, much like Thomas before him, would become the first out black man in the nation’s history to serve on the federal bench. He would also be the second out African-American to serve as a federal judge. The first, Deborah Batts, was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of New York by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Gayles was nominated today along with three other Florida judges to serve on U.S. District Courts.

In a statement to Metro Weekly, Rubio said he does not foresee having an objection with Gayles or the other three nominees.

“I welcome today’s four nominations to the district courts in Florida. As I previously indicated to the President, I do 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,” Rubio stated. “I am disappointed, however that given the opportunity to fill four vacancies on the court, the White House has declined to nominate any of the Republican finalists jointly suggested by Senator Nelson and myself.” 

According to Rubio spokesman Alex Conant, Gayles was one of several on a list of judges Rubio’s office indicated to the White House they could support for confirmation.

Gayles served as an assistant district counsel at the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1997 to 1998 and as an assistant state attorney in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office from 1993 to 1997. He is a graduate of George Washington University Law School and Howard University.

According to Victory Fund press secretary Steven Thai, Gayles is a “qualified jurist who will also add diversity to the federal bench” and, if confirmed, “will reflect the talent and commitment that exists in communities that are underrepresented in public service.”

[Photo: Darrin Gayles, courtesy of Victory Fund.]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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