Senate confirms first openly gay black federal judge

Darrin Gayles confirmed as judge in Florida, after previous openly gay black nominee blocked by conservative senator

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday for the first time confirmed an openly gay black man to become a top-level federal judge, voting 98-0 to approve President Barack Obama’s choice of Darrin Gayles for a district court in Florida.

Obama nominated Gayles for the position in February, after a previous openly gay black nominee from Miami was not confirmed to the federal bench last year. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William L. Thomas was blocked by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a conservative Republican. A spokeswoman for Rubio said he withdrew his support due to concerns over sentencing in a murder and drunk driving case.

Gayles – appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, one of the nation's busiest federal benches – has served as a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge since 2011. He was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1966 and earned a law degree from the George Washington University Law School.

By a vote of 52-44, senators also endorsed Obama's pick of Staci Yandle, an openly gay black woman, to serve on a federal district court in Illinois. While that is not a first, the White House said that vote was a milestone because it brought to 112 the number of female federal judges appointed by Obama, more than any previous president. She is the federal bench's second openly lesbian black woman.

In a third roll call, the Senate voted 92-4 to make Salvador Mendoza a federal district judge in Washington state. The White House said Obama has appointed the most Hispanics — 31 — to the federal bench of any president.

In a blog post, presidential counsel Neil Eggleston called it "a historic day for our judiciary."

"These milestones are important not because these judges will consider cases differently, but because a judiciary that better resembles our nation instills even greater confidence in our justice system,” Eggleston said, adding that the people involved would also serve as future role models.

Appointments to top-tier federal judgeships — the Supreme Court, circuit courts of appeals and district courts — are lifetime.

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