Black lawyers attack delays in judicial confirmation process
Minority attorneys and community leaders gather at press conference to express concern over delay in confirming federal judges in Florida.
By Derek Joy
They exercised their Constitutional Right to “peaceably assemble.”
Appropriately, the setting was the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Federal Courthouse in Downtown Miami. One by one, they took turns demanding justice. Individuals representing an impressive coalition of Legal Eagles include the Miami Dade Chapter of the NAACP along with several civic and political groups. Their collective purpose was a simple demand for justice.
Consequently, a poignant message was sent to the American citizenry. Justice delayed is justice denied. That is the result of unconscionable delays in the U. S. Senate’s judicial confirmation process.
“Several months ago, two nominees – William Thomas in the Southern District and Brian Davis in the Middle District – were submitted by President Barack Obama. As of today both nominations are still pending,” said Attorney Yolanda Strader, President of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association.
“A single Senator has unilaterally stalled those nominations. Senator Marco Rubio recommended both nominees to the President. But he has prevented portions of this process to begin. Despite these vacancies and pending nominations, Senator Rubio has done nothing.”
The confirmation process stalled when Rubio, the Miami Republican, failed to submit his so called “blue slip.” Florida’s Junior Senator joined other Republicans who oppose the nominations.
Democrat Bill Nelson, Florida’s Senior Senator, was represented at the gathering by Regional Director Willowstine Lawson, who said: “Sen. Nelson has submitted his blue slip for Judge William Thomas..
Interestingly enough representatives of the NAACP, Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association, T. J. Reddick Bar Association (Broward County), the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of the National Bar Association, Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, the Caribbean Bar Association, the Haitian Lawyers Association and the Dominican Bar Association launched their attacks against Rubio on Sept. 18.
Earlier that day, the Florida Times Union (Jacksonville) published a story by Larry Hannan. He reported that Rubio announced he would withdraw his hold on Davis’ nomination to the Federal Bench.
Hannan quoted a spokesperson as saying Rubio withheld his support of Davis because of concerns of other Senators. The most notable was Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Grassley reportedly claims comments in speeches made by Davis in 1994 and 1995 were inappropriate for federal jurists.
Davis, a Nassau County Circuit Court Judge, allegedly suggested in those speeches that Dr. Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign as the Surgeon General because she is Black and that Henry W. Foster, Jr., was filibustered as her successor because he is Black. His Sept. 12, letter to Rubio clarified misperceptions of, and apologized for, his comments.
“How often we are the victims of lame excuses by people who have failed to do what they’re supposed to do,” asked former Miami Dade County Commissioner Betty Ferguson, who is the widow of the man for whom this Federal Courthouse is named.
Ferguson, speaking as a representative of UP-PAC (Unrepresented Peoples Political Action Committee), added more fuel to the fires being lit under Rubio.
“We just can’t imagine a Senator blocking the process after having recommended both nominees. Doesn’t he care about his constituents enough to offer transparent explanations as to why he hasn’t acted? I’ve called his office and written him but he won’t give me the courtesy of a response.”
Rubio did not return a telephone call by this writer seeking comment. A Rubio staff member limited his response to, “The Senator has not released a statement yet.”
Chris Benjamin, vice president of the Miami Dade Chapter of the NAACP, added perspective to the significance of moving forward with the confirmation process.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Benjamin said. “We cannot afford to have justice denied. As you heard, Sen. Rubio doesn’t have a Constitutional right to delay the process. But we have a Constitutional right to justice. We urge them to move forward now.”
Attorney Leigh Ann Buchanan, President Elect of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Bar Association, considered the impact of delayed confirmations. She noted the four vacancies in the Southern District multiplies by four the caseload of presiding Federal Jurists.
“Basically speaking, if Judges already have 500 to 600 cases assigned to them, multiply that time four – the number of vacancies on the Court. Delays only exacerbate the situation.
“My thoughts are the politics should be removed from the process. You do that by focusing on the twofold ramifications of delays: The right to due process and the civil rights issue. We should have diverse judiciaries,” Buchanan said.
The Federal Courts in Florida’s Southern and Middle Districts are in a “state of emergency,” in the considered opinion of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
That Agency also cited the lack of diversity in the Federal Courts where “Black Judges are underrepresented. Of the 787 Judges on the Federal Bench, only eight percent are Black.”
Such chilling facts transcend partisan politics being played by Rubio, Grassley and other Senate Republicans.
Assistant Miami Dade State Attorney Keon Hardemon agreed with the concerns conveyed by Buchanan and others who spoke. He succinctly summarized the collective significance.
“It’s really disappointing to see such long delays in the judicial confirmation process. As Blacks have worked very, very hard to get to this point makes it even more disappointing.
“This is not only disappointed, but disheartening, especially after being appointed by the President. So, it is important these groups are highlighting the issues and move forward,” said Hardemon, who, along with the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II and Dr. Robert Malone, an educational consultant, are vying for the city of Miami’s District 5 Commission Seat currently held by term limited Michelle Spence Jones.
While expressing solidarity with all the groups represented at the gathering, a fitting point was made by Attorney Annika E. Ashton, Vice President of the Caribbean Bar Association.
“This is the beginning of the first step. Nothing worth having comes easy. So, let’s keep fighting,” said Ashton.