November 14, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Obama names gay black judge to Fla. court

President Obama nominated William Thomas to become a federal judge in Florida (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama named on Wednesday an openly gay black judge as a nominee to the federal bench in Florida, bringing his first term in office to an end after making a bevy of gay judicial appointments.

The White House announced Obama nominated William Thomas to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida as part of a group of seven nominees named to the federal bench. According to Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Thomas is gay and black.

In a statement, Obama praised the nominees as group, saying they have “demonstrated the talent, expertise and fair-mindedness Americans expect and deserve from their judicial system.”

“They also represent my continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves,” Obama said. “I am grateful for their willingness to serve and confident that they will apply the law with the utmost impartiality and integrity.”

According to a bio provided by the White House, Thomas has had experience both as a defense attorney and as a judge. He’s served as a Circuit Judge in Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit since 2005, where he has presided over both civil and criminal matters. Previously, he was as an assistant federal public defender in the Southern District of Florida and represented indigent clients in federal criminal cases.

Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesperson, said the Thomas nomination was facilitated through the Presidential Appointments Project, an initiative geared toward helping qualified LGBT individuals received appointments in the federal government.

It’s unlikely the Senate will act on the nomination given the limited time remaining in the 112th Congress. The nomination will expire at the end of the session and Obama will have to renominate Thomas next year for his appointment to remain pending before the Senate.

President Obama has named other openly gay nominees to the federal bench. They include J. Paul Oetken, Allison Nathan and Michael Fitzgerald, who are now district judges because they each received Senate confirmation. Obama also named Pamela Ki Mai Chen to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and Michael McShane to the U.S. District Court for Oregon, although neither hasn’t yet received Senate confirmation. Obama nominated Edmund Dumont to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, but Obama rescinded that nomination after no action was taken on the appointment and DuMont requested his name be withdrawn.

It’s not the first time an openly gay black person has been nominated for a federal judgeship. The first openly gay judge — U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts — who was appointed by President Clinton in 1994, was black. But Thomas is the first openly gay black male to be nominated to the federal judiciary.

Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the nominees send a message about ”the need to address the lingering and harmful judicial vacancy crisis” — noting they join 19 other nominees before the Senate awaiting confirmation.

“Today’s announcement also reflects the President’s historic commitment to advancing a diverse judiciary that looks like America,” Zirkin said. “If confirmed, these nominees would bring more women, minorities and openly gay judges to courts to better reflect the nation they serve.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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