Tuesday the U.S. Senate made judicial history by confirming Darrin Gayles to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and Staci Yandle to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, marking the first time that two openly gay judicial nominees have been confirmed to the federal bench on the same day.
“Today we have added a highly qualified judge with a decade of experience to the federal bench,” said Equality Florida executive director Nadine Smith on behalf of the Florida Why Courts Matter coalition. “That is cause for all fair-minded Floridians to celebrate. There was a time when racism and homophobia would have prevented the best candidate from being appointed. Today’s confirmation is a testament to Judge Gayles’ impressive resume and a sign of the progress we’ve made as a society.”
Currently there are 14 active judges on the Southern District with 18 authorized judgeships, meaning after Gayles’ confirmation there will still be three vacancies. All these vacancies are considered “judicial emergencies” based on the length of the vacancy and resulting backlog of cases.
Although Gayles will be the first openly gay African American male to be confirmed as a federal judge, he is the second to be nominated. Earlier this year Sen. Marco Rubio blocked the nomination of Judge William Thomas to the same Southern District Court of Florida.
Lambda Legal Fair Courts Project Manager Eric Lesh said: “President Obama has already nominated more African-American judges and openly gay and lesbian judges than any of his predecessors. With this historic confirmation, Darrin Gayles will become the nation’s first openly gay African-American man to serve on the federal bench, while Staci Yandle becomes the second openly lesbian African-American woman to be confirmed in the 20 years since President Clinton nominated Deborah Batts to the Southern District of New York.”
Lesh added, “Today, it is more important than ever that our courts reflect the growing diversity of our country, but we have a long way to go. There are nearly 900 federal judges in the U.S., and most are white men. Federal courts are charged with providing everyone with equal access to justice, and yet justice has not always been a reality for some. A diverse judiciary serves not only to improve the quality of justice, but to boost public confidence in the courts.”
The White House released the following statement Tuesday:
“This morning, the Senate confirmed three federal judges. On the one hand, they are not unique; like all of the President’s judges and judicial nominees, they have the necessary intellect, experience, integrity, and temperament. But they are special in that each of them is a trailblazer on their courts:
- Judge Darrin Gayles, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is the first openly gay African American man to be confirmed as a lifetime-appointed federal judge in our nation’s history.
- Judge Salvador Mendoza, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, is the first Hispanic judge to serve on his court.
- Staci Yandle, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, is the first African American to serve on her court and the first openly gay lifetime-appointed federal judge in Illinois.
“President Obama has now appointed more female judges than any other President, breaking the record previously set by President Clinton. President Obama also has now appointed more Hispanic judges than any other President, breaking the record previously held by President George W. Bush.”