Source: Miami Herald

Empty Judge's Bench

Leslie Proll, Director of LDF’s D.C. Office writes an op-ed in the Miami Herald on the dearth of black appellate court judges in the Eleventh Circuit: 

The government shutdown epitomizes the dysfunction caused by a small faction of Congress. But for federal judicial nominations, which require the advice and consent of the Senate, obstruction is nothing new. The confirmation process has been broken for some time. The result is a judicial vacancy crisis that harms the administration of justice and, just as important, the diversity of the federal bench.

Sen. Marco Rubio has blocked the nomination of William Thomas to Florida’s  federal district court. Thomas is the first openly gay African-American nominee to any federal court. Sen. Rubio s own 64-member judicial search commission supported Thomas as did the senator, initially. Sen. Rubio has now withdrawn his support, effectively denying Thomas a confirmation vote by the Senate. This obstruction, in the face of a superbly qualified candidate, is cause for great concern. But it is not the only issue looming for Florida’s federal judiciary.

Another issue concerns the racial diversity of judges on the federal appellate court that serves Florida, Georgia and Alabama, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. With the ever-shrinking docket of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit is effectively the court of last resort for residents of these states. Twenty-five percent of the residents are African-American, giving the Eleventh Circuit the highest percentage of African Americans of any circuit court in the country.

Although there are 12 judicial seats on the Eleventh Circuit, only one is held by an African American. Judge Charles Wilson, from Florida, was appointed by President Clinton in 1999.

Only one other African American has ever served on this court. The Eleventh Circuit was created in 1981, when Congress divided six states comprising the Fifth Circuit into two circuits. At that time, Judge Joseph Hatchett, also a Floridian and the only African American on the Fifth Circuit, was reassigned to the Eleventh. When he retired, Judge Wilson took his place.

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