More than three months ago President Barack Obama nominated Mary Barzee Flores, a former Miami judge with an illustrious career, to serve as a federal judge in the Southern District of Florida. The vacancy has been open for more than a year, and is formally classified as a judicial emergency, meaning there simply aren’t enough judges to handle the large caseload for this critically important South Florida court.
Despite the urgent need to fill this vacancy, Sen. Marco Rubio is blocking her nomination for no reason other than politics. Meanwhile, as long as the position remains vacant, the understaffed judiciary builds a backlog of cases, delaying justice for Floridians.
The Senate Judiciary Committee won’t hold a confirmation hearing for Judge Barzee Flores until it gets “blue slips” of approval from her two home-state senators. Sen. Bill Nelson has turned his in, but Rubio still hasn’t turned in his. The irony is that, after an exhaustive vetting from the bipartisan Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, Rubio joined with Nelson in recommending her to the president in the first place.
Judge Barzee Flores is eminently qualified to serve the court and people of Florida well, having eight years of experience already as a circuit judge on Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Miami. Before serving as a judge, she graduated cum laude from University of Miami Law in 1988 and worked in the Federal Public Defender’s office for 13 years.
Rubio’s explanation for delaying the nomination makes no sense. He claims that he’s waiting to turn in his blue slip until the Judiciary Committee completes its background review, but history shows that excuse is simply not credible. Barzee Flores was nominated on February 26, more than three months ago, but normally it takes much less time than that for the committee to review a nominee’s record and for home state senators to submit their blue slips.
The last Florida nominee to a federal judgeship, Robin Rosenberg, was nominated exactly one year before Barzee Flores, on Feb 26, 2014. Rubio submitted his blue slip in a timely manner, and she had her hearing in May before being unanimously confirmed on July 22. The previous four nominees to the federal bench all had a hearing less than two months after being nominated. These are hardly exceptions.
The unwarranted delay shows that Rubio has flip-flopped and now opposes Barzee Flores’ nomination, or he is aiding Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in an intentional slow-walking of all of President Obama’s judicial nominees.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Sen. Rubio has played politics with judicial nominations. In 2013, in an inexplicable act of flip-flopping, Rubio derailed President Obama’s nomination of Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge William Thomas to a seat on the federal bench for the Southern District of Florida – even though Rubio recommended Thomas to Obama in the first place.
Given Judge Barzee Flores’ distinguished qualifications, she should not be denied the opportunity to serve the citizens of South Florida because of political gamesmanship. There is simply no credible excuse for Sen. Rubio to delay Barzee Flores’ nomination any further.
The need to fill this particular judicial vacancy is especially urgent because the Southern District court is already so overwhelmed with cases that the Judicial Conference of the United States has asked Congress to create three new judgeships in the Southern District. So even if Judge Barzee Flores were confirmed today, they still won’t be able to meet the existing caseload.
Floridians deserve to have a fair and functioning judicial system and that requires a court system working at full capacity. By standing in the way of the Barzee Flores nomination to our federal court, Senator Rubio is standing in the way of justice and rendering the wrong verdict for all Floridians.
Mark Ferrulo is executive director of Progress Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.