February 5, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Obama tries again: 2nd gay black man named to fed’l bench
Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama nominated a gay black judge to serve on federal court (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

After his earlier attempt at appointing a gay black male judge to the federal bench was thwarted by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), President Obama on Wednesday announced he’s making another effort with a different nominee in the same court.

Obama named Darrin Gayles, who currently serves as a Miami-Dade Circuit Judge in Florida, as part of a group of four nominees for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

“Throughout their careers, these distinguished men and women have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to public service,” Obama said in a statement. “I am confident they will serve the American people with distinction from the District Court bench.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Gayles would be the first gay black male to serve on the federal bench. (Deborah Batts, confirmed to the federal bench in 1994 and the first-ever out person to sit on the federal judiciary, is also black.)

Steven Thai, a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, praised Obama for nominating Gayles.

“We commend the administration for nominating a qualified jurist who will also add diversity to the federal bench,” Thai said. “If confirmed, Judge Gayles will be the nation’s first black, openly gay federal judge, and he will reflect the talent and commitment that exists in communities that are underrepresented in public service.”

According to a White House bio, Gayles has served as a circuit judge in Florida state court since 2011. He was among the candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund in 2012.

Before that, Gayles was a county judge since 2004. He’s also served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, an assistant district counsel at the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service and an assistant state attorney.

Gayles received his law degree in 1993 from George Washington University Law School and his bachelor’s degree in 1990 from Howard University.

In November 2012, Obama made an attempt to appoint a gay black judge to the federal judiciary by naming Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas to federal court in Florida, but the nomination never even saw a hearing.

Rubio, who had initially recommended the Thomas nomination, refused to hand in his “blue slip” as one of his home-state senators to start the process of confirmation, objecting to Thomas’ temperament when presiding over two different cases.

Although lawyers involved in the case said he acted appropriately, Rubio refused to allow the nominee to proceed. At the start of the year, Obama didn’t include Thomas’ name among the 200 nominees that were renamed, and the White House said Thomas wouldn’t be named again.

In a statement, Rubio said he’s happy with each of the four judicial nominees that Obama named on Wednesday, which would include Gayles, but said he wished the White House would have acted in more bipartisan manner.

“I welcome today’s four nominations to the district courts in Florida,” Rubio said. “As I previously indicated to the president, I do not anticipate having an objection to moving forward on any of these nominations pending the outcome of the customary background check conducted on every nominee. I am disappointed, however that given the opportunity to fill four vacancies on the court, the White House has declined to nominate any of the Republican finalists jointly suggested by Sen. Nelson and myself.”

Alex Conant, a Rubio spokesperson, said Gayles was on a list of potential nominees that Rubio’s office told the White House would be acceptable.

Ryan Brown, a spokesperson for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), said Gayles was among the potential nominees the Florida Democrat sent to the president.

Obama has also named Staci Michelle Yandle, a black lesbian, for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. Her nomination is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

D’Arcy Kemnitz, president of the LGBT Bar Association, said Gayles’ nomination “deserves prompt consideration” by the Senate.

“Darrin Gayles is admired and well-respected throughout the profession,” Kemnitz said. “Our judiciary should never be politicized, and any attempt to delay or derail his nomination because of animus or discriminatory political views would be unacceptable.”

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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