Politics the spoiler: A judge's success story is rebuffed by a senator

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In the classic telling of an American success story, a boy who is black grows up in Fayette County in a family of 10 children on welfare, graduates from Washington & Jefferson College and becomes a respected circuit court judge in Florida.

Then the president of the United States nominates him for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and both of the state's senators support him. But not so fast. In an America blighted by extreme politics, happy endings are not guaranteed.

President Barack Obama nominated Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas in November. Praised by prosecutors and law enforcement groups, the judge was headed for confirmation until Republican Sen. Marco Rubio recently withdrew his support. (Florida's Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson gave his backing in July.)

A spokeswoman for Mr. Rubio explained why he was against the nomination after he first was for it. A review of two state court cases had raised concerns, she said, about the judge's judicial temperament and his ability to impose appropriate sentences.

One was a hit-and-run case in which a driver killed a cyclist; Mr. Rubio didn't think the sentence was tough enough. But the prosecutor and the administrative judge thought the sentence was reasonable and wrote to Mr. Rubio supporting Judge Thomas.

The second case was a murder/rape in which the judge ruled that two of the five defendants had not been properly read their Miranda rights and their confessions were not valid. But all five defendants were convicted or pleaded guilty. Judge Thomas sentenced one to death, but cried as he left the courtroom. Heaven forbid that a judge show some humanity.

The truth is Judge Thomas was the same judge Mr. Rubio supported initially. The only thing that had changed was that the senator's political star had sunk during the immigration debate. What better way to restore it than to oppose an Obama nomination? It probably helped with his far-right support that Judge Thomas was on track to become the first openly gay black man on the federal bench.

The failure of the Senate to confirm judicial nominations has hamstrung the federal bench, particularly during the years of the Obama administration (the percentage of confirmations for a president's fifth year in office was 77 percent for Bill Clinton, 92 percent for George W. Bush and 75 percent for Barack Obama).

The seat that Judge Thomas would have filled has been vacant 18 months. This is how grubby, shortsighted politics spoils an American success story.



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