TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida judge in line for a key federal post is running into opposition from Senate Democrats despite the support of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
A U.S. Senate committee on Thursday narrowly voted along partisan lines to send the nomination of Allen Winsor to the full Senate. President Donald Trump picked Winsor to succeed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle for a spot in the Northern District of Florida.
Winsor is currently a Florida appeals court judge, but before he was appointed to that job by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016, he worked as solicitor general for Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Winsor was in that role when he defended Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages that was eventually struck down. He was one of the lawyers who argued in a legal brief for the state that recognizing same-sex marriages from other states would "impose significant public harm" and that the state has a legitimate interest in defining marriage as between a man and woman.
Ashley Schapitl, a spokeswoman for California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said the senator voted against Winsor because of his role "defending laws that would restrict women's reproductive rights and prohibit same-sex marriage." She also noted that Winsor helped Florida join a lawsuit challenging power plant emissions rules drawn by up the administration of President Barack Obama.
The fight over Winsor comes while Nelson is caught up in a hard-fought battle for re-election this year against Scott, who has hammered Nelson in television ads for voting the "party line." Ryan Brown, a Nelson spokesman, would not say if Nelson would remain supportive of Winsor, who has also come under fire from liberal advocacy groups.
Brown said that Nelson has "always respected the process" that Florida uses in submitting names to the White House.
"That said, he will of course re-evaluate any new information that comes to light before casting a vote," Brown said.
Under Florida's nominating process, judicial candidates are evaluated by a committee that sends them on to the state's two senators. Both Nelson and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio recommended Winsor to Trump. Brown said that the senator and his staff interviewed Winsor before his name was submitted to the president.
If eventually approved, Winsor would be one of the judges handling high-profile lawsuits against the state of Florida and its Republican-led state government. He would be replacing the judge who struck down Florida's ban on gay marriages and sharply criticized the state's arguments in the case. In the past few years, federal judges in Tallahassee have ruled a number of times against the state and Gov. Rick Scott.
Winsor's nomination to the U.S. court in Tallahassee has gotten strong support from Bondi and others who worked with him, including Bondi's former chief of staff Carlos Muniz. Muniz, who is now general counsel for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, attended a May hearing on Winsor's nomination.
Bondi highly praised Winsor for his intelligence and temperament after he was first nominated by Trump.
"Not only is he brilliant, but he is down to earth and humble," said Bondi. "And I think we're lacking a lot of that in our country in our judicial system."