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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 15, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 28
First openly Gay federal judge confirmed by Senate, joins Lesbian on federal bench
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First openly Gay federal judge confirmed by Senate, joins Lesbian on federal bench

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

J. Paul Oetken became the first openly Gay man, and the second LGBT person, to take a seat on the federal bench when he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 18.

President Obama nominated Oetken in January for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. While only a simple majority was needed to confirm the appointment, the Senate vote was a lopsided 80-13, with the usual suspects - the most conservative Republicans - voting against Oetken.

No Democrats voted against Oetken. Sen. Kay Hagen (D-N.C.) said she would have voted Yes, but missed the vote because of a late flight.

The Senate spent only 30 minutes on the debate, with both Democrats and Republicans praising Oetken and promising to vote for his nomination. No one opposed to the nomination spoke.

White House spokesperson Shin Inouye commended the Senate for confirming Oetken, although he made no mention of the nominee's sexual orientation.

'The president welcomes the confirmation of Mr. Oetken and is confident that he will serve the American people with distinction from the district court bench,' Inouye said.

HRC President Joe Solmonese praised the Senate for its 'historic vote' in confirming an openly Gay man to the federal bench. 'Confirmation of Paul Oetken serves as a role model for all LGBT people interested in serving on the judiciary and shows LGBT youth that hard work pays off,' Solmonese said.

Solmonese added that greater representation of LGBT people is still needed in the federal judiciary.

'The federal bench is greatly lacking LGBT diversity and with thousands of qualified LGBT attorneys in the [United States], there is no reason why the federal bench should not better reflect the composition of our country,' he said.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said his organization has been lobbying for LGBT appointments in the Obama administration through its Presidential Appointments Project.

'It wasn't even two decades ago that openly LGBT people had a hard time even being considered for a presidential appointment, and some who got nominated faced fierce opposition in the Senate,' Dison said.

'Today, more than 200 LGBT Americans have been appointed by President Obama, and more than 25 of those were nominated for Senate-confirmable positions.'

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Oetken's nomination in April. Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said people should be proud of President Obama 'for taking this critical step to break down another barrier and increase diversity in the federal judiciary.'

'All of us in the Senate can also be proud that Mr. Oetken was reported with the support of every member of the Judiciary Committee - Democratic and Republican - and will be confirmed by what I believe will be an overwhelming vote in the Senate,' Leahy said.

'It is a sign that, as a nation, we have taken a new and welcome step on the path of ensuring that our Federal judiciary better reflects all Americans.'

Oetken is first openly Gay man to be confirmed as a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, an out Lesbian who also sits on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, was appointed by President Clinton.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, has also come out as Gay. He only revealed his sexual orientation after he retired from the bench, however.

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