As a lawyer mostly focused on the workings of government and elections, I usually don’t look to Florida as a model to follow when advocating for action at the state level here in Colorado. It’s often more a cautionary tale, at least since The Year of the Hanging Chad. But I can admit when I’m wrong.
Last month, Florida U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R) & Bill Nelson (D) came together and made a bipartisan appeal to the White House as it embarks on filling over 120 judicial vacancies on the lower federal courts. Dozens of President Obama’s nominations for these lower courts expired when the new Congress started this January, but many of them were the result of bipartisan selection committee processes and joint recommendation lists from home state Senators to the White House. Florida was such a case. Three of the expired District Court nominees were jointly supported by Senators from different political parties after a bipartisan selection committee review process. Now Senators Rubio and Nelson have asked the White House not to reinvent the wheel and start over, but to just re-nominate these qualified bipartisan nominees for Senate confirmation in the new Congress.
Here is where I say: Bravo Florida! This is a model of a commitment to a bipartisan selection commission process and the well-suited nominees it produces, as well as a commendable stand by Florida’s Senators to put aside politics and the post-election rancor to stay committed to individuals who would be assets to the federal bench. Such decisions put the long-term public interest in lifetime appointments of the federal judiciary above short-term political games.
Colorado is now in a similar situation, with Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) facing an expired District Court nomination. In 2016, Regina Rodriguez was nominated by the White House after both Senators recommended her from parallel bipartisan selection committee processes. Both Senators Bennet and Gardner enthusiastically supported her nomination and committed to working to push for a speedy confirmation given the backlog of cases in Colorado’s federal court. They sent a joint letter to the Judiciary Committee last July asking for a confirmation hearing and vote to be scheduled.
But now that Ms. Rodriguez’s nomination has expired, it is unclear how committed Colorado’s Senators remain to this qualified bipartisan choice for the federal bench who was named Latina Lawyer of the Year in 2013 by the Hispanic National Bar Association. Senator Bennet has remained silent, while Senator Gardner has re-opened the possibility of a different nominee all together.
Colorado would be right to look to Florida’s bipartisan delegation as a model for handling this process and together urge the White House to re-nominate Ms. Rodriguez for the District of Colorado vacant seat. With the elevation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, there is now also a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals vacancy in Colorado which provides the opportunity to survey the local legal community for new qualified potential nominees for the bench. But Colorado’s Senators have no reason to change their minds and start over the careful bipartisan process that resulted in Ms. Rodriguez’s nomination last year.