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While Rubio blocks judge confirmation, Florida panel picks 4 new nominees for other openings

@jayhweaver

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William L. Thomas as a federal judge in the Southern District of Florida may be dead, thanks to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the conservative Republican from Miami.

Rubio’s opposition to Thomas, who if confirmed would become the first openly gay black man appointed to a federal judgeship, has stirred up accusations of racism and homophobia against him. Officially, Rubio’s office has said it put a stranglehold on Thomas’ confirmation because of his apparent softness in a pair of controversial DUI and murder cases in Miami-Dade.

But as Thomas’ nomination has dragged on for months, it has not deterred the state’s Federal Judicial Nominating Commission from recommending four new finalists for two additional vacancies on the U.S. district bench in South Florida.

On Wednesday, the commission formally recommended Miami-Dade Circuit Court judges Beth Bloom, Darrin P. Gayles, Peter R. Lopez and John W. Thornton Jr. to fill the two spots to be vacated by U.S. District Court judges Patricia Seitz and Donald Graham. Both are stepping down to senior status with lighter caseloads.

In a letter, the commission informed U.S. Sens. Rubio and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, of its final recommendations. After the senators interview the finalists, the White House will then select the two nominees for the South Florida federal judgeships.

The full U.S. Senate will have the final say. But who knows how long that will take, given that august body’s snail’s pace progress on Obama’s judicial nominees.

-- JAY WEAVER

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