Florida Sen. Nelson will vote against judge he backed
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, in a dramatic turnaround, said on Friday that he will now vote against the confirmation of a Florida judge who he interviewed and once supported.
The Democratic senator said in a statement that he would now oppose Allen Winsor on the Senate floor “because of information brought up by the Senate Judiciary Committee.” The committee on Thursday had narrowly advanced Winsor’s nomination along partisan lines with Democrats unified against him.
President Donald Trump picked Winsor to succeed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle for a spot in the Northern District of Florida. Winsor is currently a Florida appeals court judge.
Senate Democrats based their opposition to Winsor on of his record working for Attorney General Pam Bondi as the state’s solicitor general. He was appointed to the bench in 2016 by Gov. Rick Scott.
While he was solicitor general, Winsor defended Florida’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages that was eventually struck down. He was one of the lawyers who argued in a legal brief for the state that recognizing same-sex marriages from other states would “impose significant public harm” and that the state has a legitimate interest in defining marriage as between a man and woman.
Nelson’s statement did not elaborate on why the senator had flipped his position on Winsor and his office did not provide any additional details. On Thursday, Nelson’s office would not say if the senator would continue to support Winsor after other Democrats lined up against him.
Nelson, however, did note that Winsor’s nomination was recommended by a nominating commission that screens candidates and provides names to Florida’s two senators. Both Nelson and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio included Winsor on a list of four possible nominees for the north Florida federal court that was sent to Trump.
“This system, which was designed to take politics out of the process, only works if Florida’s two senators agree to respect the commission’s choices and jointly send the names they choose to the White House for consideration,” said Nelson in his statement. “This is exactly what we did in the case of Allen Winsor.”
The fight over Winsor comes while Nelson is caught up in a hard-fought battle for re-election this year against Scott, who has hammered Nelson in television ads for voting the “party line.”
Scott’s campaign quickly criticized Nelson for switching his position on Winsor and suggested he did it out of allegiance to Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.
“Bill Nelson is so partisan that a small group of out-of-state democrats can force him to vote against a Floridian that he interviewed, recommended and supported,” said Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign. “Despite claiming to be independent, Bill Nelson’s own actions show that when Democrats like party boss Chuck Schumer say ‘jump,’ Nelson’s only question is ‘how high?’”
If eventually approved, Winsor would be one of the judges handling high-profile lawsuits against the state of Florida and its Republican-led state government. He would be replacing the judge who struck down Florida’s ban on gay marriages and sharply criticized the state’s arguments in the case. In the past few years, federal judges in Tallahassee have ruled a number of times against the state and Gov. Rick Scott.