WASHINGTON – Sen. Bill Nelson said today he will vote against a judicial nominee he offered up to the White House along with Sen. Marco Rubio, a remarkable turn that raises questions about Nelson's own vetting process as he tried to put the focus on the state's Judicial Nominating Commission.
"Because of the information brought up by the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will vote against the confirmation of Allen Winsor," the Florida Democrat said in a statement that provided no specifics.
His office would not elaborate on the record.
Nelson and his staff interviewed Winsor, who has opposed same-sex marriage, before his name was submitted to the White House, along with a list of other candidates. A spokesman, Ryan Brown, would not answer questions about that vetting.
Nelson's statement punts to the JNC.
"For years, Florida's two senators have relied on a bipartisan Judicial Nominating Commission to select our state's judicial nominees. This system, which was designed to take politics out of the process, only works if Florida's two senators agree to respect the commission's choices and jointly send the names they choose to the White House for consideration. This is exactly what we did in the case of Allen Winsor."
Winsor, picked to succeed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle for a spot in the Northern District of Florida, was approved along partisan lines by the Judiciary Committee on Thursday and was sent to the full Senate for consideration. Democrats objected over his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Winsor was among the names Nelson and Rubio offered to the White House in December.
"We received the following unranked list of finalists on November 15, 2017: Martin Fitzpatrick, Jan Shackelford, Kent Wetherell, and Allen Winsor. We have separately interviewed the finalists. Subject to further review of their records and background, we are submitting them to you for the president's consideration," a letter read.
That means the White House picked Winsor.
As Gary Fineout of the Associated Press reported, 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.
Scott, who is challenging Nelson for Senate, issued a statement through the campaign.
"Bill Nelson is so partisan that a small group of out-of-state democrats can force him to vote against a Floridian that he interviewed, recommended and supported," spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said. "Despite claiming to be independent, Bill Nelson's own actions show that when democrats like party boss Chuck Schumer say 'jump,' Nelson's only question is 'how high?'"
Rubio in 2013 held up a judicial nominee — after submitting a JNC approved name to the Obama White House –amid objections from Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, now chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Senators have the right to object at any time but can also conduct interviews — as Nelson did — and "if neither the Presiding Senator nor the Non-Presiding Senator objects to the finalist, the Presiding Senator will forward to the White House the finalist's name on an unranked list of finalists," according to JNC rules.