November 15, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Yesterday, President Obama submitted seven nominations to the federal bench, among them his first prospective gay African-American appointee. Judge William Thomas, who has been a member of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit since 2005, would be the first gay black man on the federal bench in history. Before his time on the bench in Florida, Judge Thomas worked as an assistant federal public defender in the Southern District of Florida, as well as an assistant public defender in Miami-Dade County. From Metro Weekly:
“These individuals have demonstrated the talent, expertise, and fair-mindedness Americans expect and deserve from their judicial system,” Obama said [in a statement]. “They also represent my continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves. I am grateful for their willingness to serve and confident that they will apply the law with the utmost impartiality and integrity.”
A 1994 graduate of the Temple University School of Law, Thomas’s nomination marks the seventh out gay person nominated to the federal bench by Obama. Of the previous six nominated, three have been confirmed by the Senate and one — Edward DuMont — withdrew his nomination last November after waiting 18 months to receive his first committee hearing on his nomination.
Judge Thomas’s nomination underscores what I saw as one of the most under-reported aspects of the presidential campaign: the importance the president’s role in making judicial nominations at the district and circuit court levels. Speculation about what new Supreme Court justices a president will have the opportunity to nominate is important, of course, but lower court judgeships are just as–and possibly even more–significant.
Because the Supreme Court only hears a small number of cases every term, many final decisions in American law are made at the circuit court level, and of course it is district judges who preside over trials and establish arguments of fact. President Obama moved surprisingly slowly in his first term on judicial nominations, and hopefully these new nominations mark the beginning of a new focus for the administration in which it seeks to fill the many judicial vacancies across our country.
Although we will never know beyond speculation, it is difficult to believe that a President Romney who have continued in the footsteps of President Obama, who has made great strides in nominating a more diverse federal judiciary. This isn’t a question of ideology, but rather one of diversity: a federal bench with members from a rich, varied set of backgrounds will be better equipped to meet the needs of a rich and multifarious nation.