Judge William Thomas was first named in November by President Obama for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, but as of today his confirmation was being held up by only one vote — that of Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
According to the Washington Blade, Rubio hasn’t yet responded to repeated requests as to the reason behind the delay, which is stopping Thomas from becoming the first black gay male judge appointed to the federal bench (the first openly gay black person appointed was out lesbian Judge Deborah Batts, appointed by President Clinton in 1994).
A recently published report in the Tampa Bay Times indicates some concerns that Rubio may have with Judge Thomas, ranging from his ruling on a complicated and controversial hit and run case to questions about some statements on race that he may have made in the past.
Judge Thomas sentenced the driver in the hit and run death of a cyclist to just 364 days amid health concerns about a blood disease that would put the offender at risk of death during an extended jail sentence. Most of the time ended up being served locally.
Then, there is the racial angle of the delay. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Rubio now claims that he shares the concerns of Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who questioned statements that Judge Thomas made in the 1990’s which inferred that Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign as U.S. Surgeon General because she’s black.
Thomas has since acknowledged that the comments were inappropriate for a Judge, even though they were made in the context of a speech about race.
While there is no real indication that sexual orientation is a cause of the holdup, LGBT organizations have thrown their support behind Judge Thomas. Sharon Lettman-Hicks, CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a black oriented LGBT organization, has gone on record as saying she’s “disgusted” by the situation.
Human Rights Campaign VP of communications Fred Sainz echoes her sentiments: “There’s no good reason why justice should be further delayed when Judge Thomas is ready, willing and able to serve.”