April 28, 2016

Three Floridians among Obama nominees to federal district bench


President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated U.S. magistrate judges in Jacksonville and Ocala and a prominent Tampa lawyer for federal district court seats, adding their names to a backlog of dozens of judicial picks the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to confirm.

Obama named Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale of Jacksonville and Tampa white-collar defense attorney William F. Jung to the Middle District of Florida, and he chose Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens for the Northern District of Florida.

"There is a judicial emergency in the Middle District of Florida right now," Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Sen. Rubio and I have conferred on these three nominees, and even in this highly partisan environment, I'm hopeful that we can get them approved quickly."

Aides to Rubio confirmed that the two senators had worked together in recommending the Florida nominees to Obama.

Rubio, however, declined to say whether he would push for his Senate Republican colleagues to confirm them. Republicans are refusing to hold hearings or to vote on Obama's nomination last month of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

With 85 federal district seats unfilled nationwide, Florida has three of 28 vacancies deemed "emergency" by the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for federal courts overseen by the Supreme Court.

The emergency designation is based on a combination of the length of vacancy and how many cases are pending before a court.

Both seats that Obama moved to fill Thursday for the Middle District of Florida are among the 28 emergency vacancies, with one seat empty since June 30, 2015, and the second seat unfilled since August 1 of last year.

The Middle District of Florida had 9,401 cases in 2015, which is considered a heavy load. It stretches from south of Naples on the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border and includes Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.

Obama also nominated five other district judges to seats in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

"Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said of his eight choices for judicial promotion. "Their records are distinguished and impressive, and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench."

The Senate on April 11 unanimously confirmed Waverly Crenshaw Jr., an African-American lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., to a federal district judgeship.

The Senate confirmed just 17 of Obama's judicial nominees last year, the fewest since 1960.

Before becoming a U.S. magistrate judge in 2012, Lammens was a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville, the city's No. 2 attorney and a civil trial lawyer in the torts division of the U.S. Justice Department. He earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida.

A U.S. magistrate judge since 2013, Barksdale also previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She, too, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Jung is a founding partner of the Jung & Sisco law firm in Ocala, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He was a federal prosecutor in Miami in the late 1980s and clerked before that for then-Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Jung received his law degree from the University of Illinois and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University





April 27, 2016

Bill Nelson meets with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland


Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson met Wednesday with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, President Obama's pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

"Judge Garland is obviously qualified and should be confirmed as soon as possible," Nelson said in a statement after the meeting.

Garland has been working Capitol Hill, but most Republican senators, including Florida's Marco Rubio, won't sit down with him because they don't think the president should nominate a justice in his last year in office.

April 25, 2016

Bill Nelson weighs in on potential release of 9/11 report

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Monday wrote to President Obama and appeared to question speculation, largely coming from former Sen. Bob Graham, that the 9/11 report shows ties to Saudi Arabia.  

The letter follows high-profile media appearances by Graham, who has strongly suggested a Saudi relationship with the terrorists.

Nelson's letter:

I understand that your administration may soon decide whether to declassify part or all of the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 report that have not yet been made available to the public.

As I’m sure you are aware, there is growing speculation that information contained in these 28 pages will show that Saudi Arabia provided support to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. I have read the 28 pages, and I have also read intelligence reports that debunk them.

If you declassify these 28 pages, I strongly urge you to also declassify intelligence reports that debunk them in order to provide the American people with a complete picture of this issue. 

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

April 21, 2016

Bill Nelson to kick off Miami lawmaker's Florida Senate bid


State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez is bringing a big name to kick off his Florida Senate bid: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Nelson will be the featured guest at a May 3 fundraiser at Segafredo, a restaurant in Miami's Brickell neighborhood, according to an invitation sent Thursday by Rodríguez's campaign.

The minimum suggested donation is $100.

On Senate floor, Bill Nelson renews call for $1.9B to fight Zika

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Thursday filed legislation to fully fund President Obama's $1.9 billion request to fight Zika, saying the move was necessary amid "rumors" that appropriators have struck a deal for $1.1 billion.

"This is truly an emergency,” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “I’m calling on our colleagues to approve the president's $1.9 billion in emergency funding request now in the immediate future. Not later. The cost of this inaction would be far greater, and the consequences way too devastating."

Republicans have given a mixed reception to calls for $1.9 billion, with some supporting it and others suggesting Obama first use the funding he has already secured. Sen. Marco Rubio supports Obama's request.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

March 16, 2016

Florida politicians comment on Obama's SCOTUS nominee


President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans said even before there was a nominee that they wouldn't hold any hearings.

Here's what Florida politicians had to say about Garland's nomination:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat:

The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court and I take that responsibility very seriously. Today, the president nominated Judge Merrick Garland to serve on our nation’s highest court and I hope that the Senate is given a chance to fully consider this nominee.

Continue reading "Florida politicians comment on Obama's SCOTUS nominee" »

March 09, 2016

New poll: Hillary Clinton holds huge lead over Bernie Sanders


A new Quinnipiac poll shows that Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 62-32 in Florida among likely Democratic voters one week before the March 15 primary.

In Ohio -- which holds a primary the same day -- she leads 52-43.

In Florida, six percent of Democratic voters remain undecided and 16 percent said they might change their mind. Her lead is particularly strong among female voters and voters age 45 and older. 

"Secretary Hillary Clinton has doubled-up on Sen. Bernie Sanders in Florida. With less than a week until the actual voting, it is difficult to see a path to victory for him in the Sunshine State. He just has too much ground to make up and not enough time in which to do it," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

The poll was conducted March 2-7 among 511 likely Democratic voters and has a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

Polls have consistently showed Clinton far ahead including a Q poll in February in which Clinton led Sanders 59-33.

The Democrats face off in a debate at Miami Dade College tonight.

Sanders spoke in Miami last night -- his first public rally in South Florida. Clinton's last public appearance was at Broward College in October.

Photo credit Associated Press.

March 01, 2016

PPP poll: Majority favors Florida medical marijuana ballot question

via @learyreports


Sixty-five percent of Florida voters say they'll support a medical marijuana ballot initiative this fall, enough to pass the measure. Only 28 percent are opposed.

"There's bipartisan support for the measure with Democrats (75/18), independents (70/22), and Republicans (53/40) all expressing their favor for it," according to a new PPP poll.

More from a release:

Bill Nelson is Florida's most popular politician, with a 40% approval rating to 32% of voters who disapprove of him. That puts him ahead of the perennially unpopular Rick Scott, who comes in at 38/48, and even further ahead of the newly unpopular Marco Rubio whose Presidential bid has hurt him at home and caused his approval spread to drop down to 31/55

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 25, 2016

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson: Apple should work with FBI to unlock terrorist's iPhone

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Thursday added his voice to those calling for Apple to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers.

"I certainly understand the risk to Americans’ privacy as expressed by Apple and other technology companies, and I don't want to run the risk of letting the trail go so cold on this terrorist attack and potentially other cases, that the trail could go so cold that we lose it because this is winding itself through months and years in the courts. In other words, we need to know what was behind this attack, a terrorist attack that everybody recognizes was terrorist. We need to know in order to get to the bottom of it and root it out and see if there is other terrorists inside the country that are planning to do the same thing, to protect our people and our national security.

"So there's got to be a way that the FBI can get the information it needs from the terrorist's iPhone in a manner that continues to protect American smartphone users," Nelson said.

Sen. Marco Rubio has tried to put a foot on both sides of the debate. “I don’t have a magic solution for it today,” the Republican presidential candidate said during a CNN town hall last week. “If you create a backdoor, there is a very reasonable possibility that a criminal gang could figure out what the backdoor is.” But he added, “On the flip-side of it, there might be valuable information on that phone from the San Bernardino killers that could lead us to preventing future crimes or future attacks.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 16, 2016

Florida League of Women Voters, with guest U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, to speak against lawmakers' plan for a state charter authorizer


The Florida League of Women Voters announced today that Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will join the group at a press conference Wednesday where members of the league will discuss what they describe as an "egregious constitutional amendment" proposed by Republican state lawmakers that would set up a statewide charter school district.

In a revised press release, the league later clarified that Nelson "will speak in support of the league's hard work registering voters, as well as efforts at fairness during reapportionment and Amendment 1 issues," while league President Pamela Goodman and "educational organizations" will focus their comments on the charter school issue.

The event begins at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of the Old Capitol in downtown Tallahassee.

Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, have proposed creating a statewide board that would "authorize, operate, control, and supervise" charter schools across Florida.

The House is expected to vote on its version (HJR 759) this week, while the Senate version (SJR 976) has stalled in committee. (Stargel's bill was supposed to be heard in late January by the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee, but was temporarily postponed and hasn't been scheduled for consideration again since.)

Diaz has said the bill wouldn't remove local school boards' power to authorize charter schools, but public school officials fear it would because private entities aiming to set up charter schools could circumvent local board approval by submitting applications directly to the state.

The Legislature 10 years ago tried to create a state-authorizing body for charter schools but it was struck down in the courts. Diaz's and Stargel's bills would send to voters a constitutional amendment to codify the charter school authorizer in the Florida Constitution.

Constitutional amendments must be approved by three-fifths of both the House and Senate: 72 members in the House and 24 in the Senate. Then, the proposal must get 60-percent approval from voters in order to change the Constitution.