Although he’s missed 11% of Senate votes – seven times as many as most of his colleagues – Presidential candidate Marco Rubio has been busy blocking one of President Obama’s judicial nominees. The strange part of it is that the nominee in question, Mary Barzee Flores, was recommended to the President by Senator Rubio himself.
Meanwhile, as Rubio continues to prevent Flores from getting a Senate hearing, the U.S. District Court for the District of Southern Florida – which covers the populous Miami metro region – is without a judge. That state of affairs has been going on for almost a year and a half.
Flores graduated from the University of Miami School of Law with honors. After only two years in private practice, Flores went on to more than two decades in public service, first with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, then as a Circuit Judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. She has presided over both civil and criminal cases. On top of that, she continues to handle complex commercial and employment litigation at a prestigious south Florida law firm.
Furthermore, according to the Miami Sun Sentinel, Flores has been endorsed by federal prosecutors as well as law enforcement. With such a sterling record and legal career, one would think Mary Flores is the ideal candidate to take over the seat recently vacated by the Honorable Judge Robin Rosenbaum, who has gone on to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
Rubio and his fellow Florida Senator, Bill Nelson, certainly thought so when they recommended Flores to President Obama earlier this year. The President nominated her at the end of February. That was eight months ago. Flores is still awaiting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, currently chaired by GOP Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. What is holding up Flores’ hearing?
It has to do with a century-old procedure, unique to the Senate judicial confirmation process, known as “blue-slipping.” This is an opinion, written on an actual piece of blue paper, by the Senators of the nominee’s home state, as to whether their opinion of said nominee is favorable or unfavorable. It is as simple as checking a box. The Senators’ “blue slip” opinions are only one factor the Senate Judiciary Committee considers when deciding whether or not the nominee should move forward to the confirmation process. However, until both Senators submit their opinions, the Committee can do nothing. Senator Nelson turned in his blue slip back in February, when Flores was first nominated. Senator Rubio has not.
A Rubio spokesman told Huffington Post that the Senator takes his role in the judicial confirmation process “very seriously,” adding:
The Senate Judiciary Committee is still conducting a full review of the nominee’s background and record…after that review is complete, Senator Rubio will make his own determination based on the committee’s review and his own further review.
That makes as much sense as anything else the GOP says or does anymore – that is to say, virtually none. Rubio recommended Mary Flores to the President in the first place, presumably based on her glowing record and sterling resumé. What is his problem?
Jennifer Bendery, White House correspondent and Congressional reporter for HuffPo, speculates that it is part of a long-term GOP strategy to stack federal courts with right-wing judges. Republicans have been delaying hearings on President Obama’s judicial nominees at a rate not seen since the first year of the Eisenhower Administration. One of the ways they have done this is by dragging out “committee reviews.” Apparently, the GOP is still holding out hope that one of their own will take the White House in 2016. If they can stall President Obama’s nominees until after the next inauguration, they will be in a position to fill the federal bench with their own hand-picked judges – who will have their jobs for life.
Should the GOP take the White House next year, it would be an unmitigated disaster for the nation.
Here’s the kicker – the “blue slip” process is not part of formal committee rules. According to George Washington University Jonathan Turley,
Blue-slipping is a little known process by which senators can block federal judge nominees from their state. This means that judges who may rule in your case often are selected to meet senatorial, not professional, demands. By simply not returning blue slips sent by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a senator can block a nominee for the most nefarious or arbitrary reasons, including a personal grudge, a bargaining tool with the White House or failure of the nominee to be sufficiently fawning in the senator’s presence.
But that’s all it is. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Grassley could simply dismiss the whole process and move forward with the nomination hearing. But given that he is a Republican, there is virtually no chance of that happening.
It’s not the first time Rubio has pulled this stunt. In 2013, he blocked the President’s previous nominee to the Southern District of Florida, an openly gay African-American jurist named William Thomas – whom Rubio had also recommended to the Obama Administration.
Meanwhile, the bench of the U.S. District Court for the District of Southern Florida continues to go unfilled. There are two additional vacancies in the Sunshine State, with another seat opening up at the end of this year. As a result, justice is being delayed as the backlog of cases continues to grow. The small number of retired and semi-retired judges who are currently attempting to take up the slack are quickly burning out. Officially, the situation in Florida constitutes a “judicial emergency.”
It is pure, partisan politics at its most egregious level. Justice delayed is justice denied, but Rubio and his fellow Republicans don’t give a tinker’s damn. They’re determined to hold as many judicial seats open for as long as possible in hopes of a complete GOP takeover next year – even if they’re more likely to wind up cutting off their noses to spite their faces.