Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has reneged his support for a gay black Miami judge's nomination to the federal bench, a move that critics are decrying as politically motivated.
With Rubio's backing, President Barack Obama nominated Judge William Thomas last year to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami. After a background check raised no red flags on Thomas, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) signed off on the nomination as well.
But Rubio's apparent change of heart will likely block Thomas's nomination. A judicial nominee must win the approval of both home state senators.
A spokeswoman for Rubio told The New York Times that the senator has "concerns" regarding Thomas's "judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences." Rubio's office cited Thomas's decisions in two criminal cases, including his sentencing in a hit-and-run case that the senator felt was too lenient.
But as the Times noted, the lead prosecutor in that case and the administrative judge for 11th Judicial Circuit criminal division said that Thomas acted fairly in his ruling.
Thomas would have become the first openly gay black man to serve on a federal bench.
Yolanda Strader, president of Miami’s largest association for black lawyers, told the Times she suspects that Rubio — who has seen his once sparkling reputation among Republicans take a hit in recent months —is playing politics with the nomination.
“As much as I would like to think that politics has nothing to do with this, it looks as if it does,” Strader said.
Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, a former GOP senator and a conservative patriarch, admitted earlier this month that Rubio's leading role in the Senate's immigration reform push may have been a political liability for the potential 2016 contender.