Republican Senators from Florida delay Biden’s appointment of chief attorney for federal judgeship

Detra Shaw-Wilder appeared to be a clear favorite when President Joe Biden selected the well-respected lawyer as a federal judge in Miami.

With a glowing recommendation from a nominating committee selected by influential Miami Sen. Marco Rubio, she entered the scene as the former managing partner of a prestigious law firm in South Florida. Her credentials were impeccable, garnering support from various corners, including the conservative Federalist Society, the Cuban American Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and a range of business and civic leaders representing diverse political beliefs.

Despite receiving widespread support and the White House’s efforts to persuade, Shaw-Wilder’s nomination has encountered obstacles in the complex realm of judicial politics. Florida’s two Republican senators, Rubio and Rick Scott, have delayed her nomination as the upcoming presidential election between Democrat Biden and former president Donald Trump, the presumed GOP nominee, approaches.

Three South Florida nominees get Senate backing

Shaw-Wilder’s supporters are dismayed by the obstruction of her nomination. They raise concerns about the contrasting ease with which three other federal judicial nominees from South Florida were confirmed earlier this year. This includes a Hispanic woman, a non-Hispanic woman, and the nephew of auto magnate Norman Braman – a significant contributor to Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a prominent advocate for Detra Shaw-Wilder’s appointment, expressed a sense of personal responsibility for her nomination to the bench in Miami.

Congresswoman Wilson was approached by the late U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who held the distinction of being the first African-American woman appointed to the federal bench in Florida. Before her passing, Judge Cooke made a heartfelt request to Congresswoman Wilson. She asked her to ensure that a Black woman would succeed her in her esteemed position. It was a poignant plea for representation and diversity within the legal system.

“I am determined to honor the commitment I made to the late Judge Marcia Cooke,” Wilson stated. “Given the recent developments, it is essential for me to engage in further discussions with Senator Scott to explore potential solutions and address any concerns that may arise.”

A highly respected Black lawyer in Coral Gables has been nominated as a federal judge in South Florida. This nomination is a significant milestone and recognition of their expertise and contributions to the legal field. To learn more about this accomplished individual and their journey to this nomination, continue reading.

Scott: White House didn’t consult him properly

During an interview, Scott expressed his decision to block Shaw-Wilder’s nomination in the U.S. Senate. He stated that his reason for doing so is the lack of proper consultation from the Biden administration before the announcement of her appointment in late March. Rubio has also joined Scott in putting her nomination on hold.

Scott, who interviewed Shaw-Wilder last year and still views her as a strong contender for a federal judgeship, expressed his disappointment with the White House staffers’ lack of good faith. According to Scott, they engaged in discussions about potential nominees and even reached an agreement before Biden officially announced his selection of Shaw-Wilder in March.

In an interview with the Herald on Wednesday, Scott expressed his frustration with the lack of collaboration between the Senate office of the home-state senator and the White House. He emphasized the importance of good-faith consultation and stated that he will not proceed until they work together. Scott highlighted the disregard for the established process, stating, “They just said, ‘Heck with the process,’ [and] didn’t go through it.”

Scott clarified that his decision to not delay Shaw-Wilder’s nomination was not influenced by the upcoming rematch between Biden and Trump.

Legal experts note that this phenomenon has been observed in specific states like Missouri, Mississippi, and potentially Florida, where the Republican party holds a significant influence. At this point, the Biden administration has successfully secured the confirmation of approximately 200 judicial appointments by the Senate, a number that is on par with the total appointments made by Trump during his presidency.

Rubio’s change of heart

Rubio’s office has stated that despite his initial support for Shaw-Wilder, the senator will not be proceeding with her nomination. This aligns with Scott’s stance on the matter.

A spokesperson from Senator Rubio’s office emphasized the importance of the White House working together with both senators in order to ensure progress in the process. In a statement provided to the Herald on Wednesday, the spokesperson stated, “As Senator Rubio has said before, the White House needs to work collaboratively with both senators if it wants the process to move forward.” However, when asked to provide further details, the spokesperson did not respond.

As U.S. senators, Rubio and Scott hold the authority to impede a president’s nomination of any federal judge in the Southern District of Florida and other parts of the state. This prevents the nomination from undergoing a review by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate. According to Senate rules, both senators can exercise their veto power by refusing to issue a “blue slip,” which initiates the confirmation process.

Both parties involved have declined to provide the necessary information, causing a delay in Shaw-Wilder’s nomination as she undergoes the final stage of a government background check.

White House says Rubio, Scott were informed

According to a senior Biden administration official, the claims made by the Florida senators that the White House did not consult with them on the Shaw-Wilder nomination are inaccurate. The official clarified that both Senator Scott and Senator Rubio were notified beforehand about President Biden’s intention to proceed with Shaw-Wilder as his pick for the federal judge position in Miami. This notification occurred weeks before the official announcement of her nomination in late March.

According to the official, discussions on potential nominees had included her name as early as July 2022, and she remained one of the top candidates until her nomination was announced in January 2023. Senator Scott personally interviewed Shaw-Wilder in January 2023, following an interview conducted by her Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire in August 2021, by the senator’s general counsel.

“The White House is fully supportive of Detra Shaw-Wilder’s nomination for the Southern District of Florida,” affirmed Phil Brest, special assistant to the president and senior counsel. He praised her as a “consensus pick.”

According to Brest, Ms. Shaw-Wilder is an exceptional attorney with the necessary expertise, qualifications, and abilities to greatly benefit the residents of the Southern District [of Florida]. He further explains that the Southern District primarily deals with civil cases, particularly complex ones, which align perfectly with Ms. Shaw-Wilder’s extensive experience in litigation over the years.

Supporters of Shaw-Wilder are maintaining their focus on advancing her nomination instead of openly questioning the intentions of Florida’s two Republican senators.

Harley Tropin, one of the co-founders of the Coral Gables-based law firm Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, expressed his confidence in Shaw-Wilder’s abilities. He mentioned that she has an impressive background in handling complex civil litigation. Additionally, as a Miami native, she has established herself as a prominent figure within the legal community. Tropin believes that her extensive experience and local connections would greatly benefit the federal court.

Detra Shaw-Wilder has been working alongside me for many years, and I can confidently say that she possesses all the necessary qualifications for this role. Her temperament, intellect, and integrity are exceptional. I firmly believe that she would make an outstanding federal judge, and I sincerely hope that the senators recognize her capabilities and assist in her confirmation process.

In his interview with the Herald, Scott indicated that he may be open to exploring a potential resolution regarding Shaw-Wilder’s nomination if the White House takes into account her and other candidates for not only the Miami vacancy but also other federal bench openings in the Middle District of Florida, which encompasses the Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville regions.

According to Scott, the best approach is for each side to propose nominees, engage in discussions, and reach a consensus. He did not specify if he would approve Shaw-Wilder’s nomination in Miami in exchange for the chance to select a candidate for the three current federal judge positions in the Middle District of Florida.

Miami native

Shaw-Wilder’s roots are deeply embedded in the vibrant cities of Miami and Florida.

In 2002, she joined the firm as a partner and eventually became its managing partner. Presently, she holds the position of general counsel at the high-profile law firm. Notably, the firm played a pivotal role in obtaining a $1 billion settlement for the families who lost their loved ones in the tragic Surfside condo building collapse in June 2021.

Shaw-Wilder, aged 54, resides in Davie with her family. She was among the few candidates recommended by a nominating committee selected by Rubio, a Miami Republican. However, during the last round of Biden nominations for federal judgeships in South Florida, she was overlooked, much to the disappointment of local Black leaders.

In late February, three former U.S. prosecutors were confirmed by the U.S. Senate as federal judges in the Southern District of Florida. Among them is Jacqueline Becerra, a Hialeah native and alumna of the University of Miami and Yale University Law School. Prior to her appointment, she served as a magistrate judge in Miami and gained valuable experience as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office. Additionally, she has worked as a partner at the esteemed Greenberg Traurig law firm.

David Leibowitz, who earned both his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, has been confirmed by the Senate. Before his confirmation, he worked at the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan and later served as the general counsel for Braman Motors, his uncle’s auto empire located in Miami. It is worth mentioning that Leibowitz’s uncle was Senator Rubio’s primary supporter during his presidential campaign in 2016.

Senate Confirms Hialeah Native and Braman’s Nephew as Federal Judges in Miami

The Senate has officially confirmed the appointment of a Hialeah native and Braman’s nephew as federal judges in Miami. This decision comes as a significant milestone for both individuals and the local community as a whole.

The newly appointed judges have demonstrated exceptional talent and expertise in their respective fields, making them highly qualified for this prestigious position. Their appointment reflects not only their personal achievements but also their dedication to upholding the principles of justice and fairness.

It is worth noting that these judges have deep roots in the Hialeah area, which further strengthens their connection to the local community. This connection will undoubtedly play a crucial role in their ability to understand and address the unique challenges and needs of the region.

The confirmation of these appointments is a testament to the Senate’s commitment to ensuring a fair and efficient judiciary system. By selecting individuals with a strong track record of excellence, the Senate is taking a proactive approach to upholding the integrity of the federal judiciary.

Overall, the confirmation of a Hialeah native and Braman’s nephew as federal judges in Miami is a positive development for the local community. It not only showcases the talent and expertise of these individuals but also highlights the Senate’s dedication to maintaining a robust and impartial judiciary system.

Melissa Damian, who had experience working in the U.S. attorney’s office prior to her tenure as a U.S. magistrate judge in Miami, was later confirmed. Damian, a Princeton University and UM law school graduate, began her career as a clerk for former U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro, who supported her aspirations to become a federal judge.

In late February, the Senate confirmed Julie Sneed, a Black magistrate judge, as a federal judge in the Middle District of Florida.

Former Florida governor Scott, who is up for reelection to the Senate in November, expressed that the White House has been more collaborative in the nominations of four federal judges and two U.S. attorneys in recent years compared to the recent appointment of Shaw-Wilder.

Several legal and political observers in South Florida have expressed a simmering concern that the two Florida senators may be engaging in racial discrimination by holding up Shaw-Wilder’s nomination for federal judge, as per interviews with the Herald. However, it should be noted that no one has directly accused the senators of such discrimination.

A decade ago, Rubio blocked the nomination of William Thomas, a Miami-Dade Circuit Judge who was openly gay and Black, for the federal bench. This action has resurfaced and brought back bitter memories.

The Judicial Diversity Initiative, a coalition of Black Bar Associations in South Florida, expressed their disappointment in a statement released on Thursday. They expressed their concern that the nomination seems to have been delayed for unclear political reasons. The coalition emphasized that this outcome will be disappointing for many individuals in the community, particularly the Black community in Florida.

According to the group, Shaw-Wilder is highly qualified to serve as a federal judge. They highlight that individuals from various backgrounds, including business owners, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and lawyers from both sides of the political spectrum, have expressed their support for her nomination.

Strong support for her

Former Circuit Judge Alan Fine expressed his unwavering support for Ms. Shaw-Wilder, highlighting her esteemed reputation and commendable qualities within the legal community. In a letter addressed to Senators Rubio, Scott, Lindsay Graham, and Richard Durbin, Judge Fine praised her sharp legal acumen, composed demeanor, and unwavering dedication to improving the accessibility and civility of the legal profession. He wholeheartedly endorsed her nomination, expressing complete confidence in her ability to serve as an exceptional judge if confirmed.

Former Herald publisher Dave Lawrence expressed his utmost admiration for Detra Shaw-Wilder, describing her as an exceptional individual he has encountered in his lifetime. He emphasized her outstanding professionalism, emphasizing that she is truly one of the best people he has ever had the privilege to know.

In a phone interview, Lawrence expressed his admiration for Shaw-Wilder, describing him as a remarkable individual who embodies the core values of this nation.

“He emphasized the need for a prompt confirmation so that she can begin her work,” he expressed. “Throughout my interactions with her, I have consistently been impressed by her authentic decency and unwavering trustworthiness in making crucial decisions affecting the lives of fellow human beings.”

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