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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rubio faces criticism over holding up South Florida judicial nominee



UPDATE: Nelson's office said Wednesday that he returned his blue slip on Thomas on July 24, 2013, "right after Judiciary Committee staff informed him nothing in the background investigation warranted holding up the nomination."

For months, Sen. Marco Rubio has faced growing complaints over his refusal to advance a South Florida judicial nominee – one he recommended to the White House -- and the matter is now certain to languish into the new year, if not longer.

The Judiciary Committee’s final meeting of the year takes place next week, and Mary Barzee Flores is not on the agenda. Rubio has not submitted a “blue slip” that would allow her to advance, though he points to the committee vetting process.

“We’re not discussing particulars until Judiciary Committee finishes review,” spokesman Alex Burgos said. “There’s a thorough review of the nomination currently underway by the Judiciary Committee. Once that is complete and reviewed by the senator, we will discuss next steps. We’re letting the current step – vetting for a lifetime job – be completed first.”

Without a blue slip, Barzee Flores cannot advance.

The spot on the court has been vacant since May 2014 and is considered a judicial emergency, meaning cases are backlogged.

Barzee Flores was recommended by the widely regarded Florida Judicial Nominating Commission. Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson forwarded her name to the White House, which in February nominated Barzee Flores fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Senators are not bound to support a nominee under JNC rules, though they generally have.

Barzee Flores served on the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida in Miami from 2003 to 2011 and before that had a long stint in the federal public defender’s office. She graduated from Miami Law School in 1988.

The Judicial Committee is overseen by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democrats and activists have accused him of “slow walking” President Obama’s nominees in the case a Republican president takes over.

“U.S. Courts declared judicial emergency vacancies skyrocketed this year from 12 to 30 because of unjustifiable delays by Sen. Rubio and other home-state Republican senators,” said Glenn Sugameli of Judging the Environment.

Rubio’s actions have drawn complaints in Florida, including a protest outside his Orlando office in August. “The Sunshine State is in a judicial emergency,” read one sign. Rubio’s staff cited the committee review.

Grassley has disputed charges he’s playing politics. We’ve asked his office for comment on the Barzee Flores investigation.

In 2013, Rubio declined to submit a blue slip for Brian Davis for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District. Rubio has introduced Davis at his nomination hearing, saying, One of the pleasant surprises of this job is the quality of individuals who offer themselves for public service, and the quality of individuals who we've been able to forward to the president, to the White House, today being no exception.”

But Grassley questioned statements Davis made in the mid 1990s, including suggesting Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign as U.S. surgeon general because she is black.

In a letter to Sen. Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson, Davis said issues of race are important to discuss but that some of his words were "improper." Rubio then released his hold and Davis was confirmed.

Rubio drew complaints from black legislators about a hold on another nominee, William L. Thomas for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge who is openly gay. But Nelson too raised concerns and Thomas was not confirmed.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 3, 2015 5:03pm]


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