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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 4, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 44
Senate panel advances Gay judicial nominee
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Senate panel advances Gay judicial nominee

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

By a unanimous voice vote on November 3, a Senate committee approved Michael Walter Fitzgerald, a judicial nominee who could become the fourth openly Gay person to sit on the federal bench. President Obama nominated Fitzgerald in July, and he was approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee en banc as part of a group of nominees.

Fitzgerald is the fourth out federal judicial nominee chosen by the White House. Upon confirmation, he would take a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and would be the first openly Gay federal judge in that state.

'Moving Michael Fitzgerald's nomination to the Senate floor is a positive step toward confirming a dedicated legal talent,' said Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. 'We urge the full Senate to confirm him and help make the bench more representative of the diversity of the American public.'

It is unknown when the full Senate will take up the Fitzgerald nomination because the Senate is currently facing a backlog of judicial nominees who have yet to receive votes.

Erica Chabot, a Senate Judiciary Committee spokesperson, said 22 nominations were already pending on the floor before the committee approved Fitzgerald and other nominees on Thursday.

'This nomination will join those and the others reported today on the floor,' Chabot said. 'Sen. Leahy has been very clear about his concerns with how long nominations are pending on the floor after being reported by the committee.'

The Fitzgerald nomination was recommended to Obama by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California), who also praised the committee for advancing the Fitzgerald nomination and called for swift confirmation on the Senate floor.

'I am so pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Michael Fitzgerald's nomination to serve on the federal bench,' Boxer said. 'He is a highly respected attorney whose sharp intellect and experience as a former federal prosecutor and attorney in private practice will make him an outstanding judge. It is now critical that the Senate move swiftly to confirm him so he can begin serving the people of the Central District.'

According to Boxer's office, Fitzgerald has tried 26 cases to verdict, and the overwhelming majority were before a jury. Around 60% of his practice is in federal court. The American Bar Association gave him a rating of 'unanimously well-qualified.'

Fitzgerald is no stranger to represent client in cases related to LGBT rights. He was involved in the settlement of Buttino v. FBI, the 1993 class-action lawsuit involving Frank Buttino, a Gay FBI specialist who was anonymously outed to his superior, resulting in the loss of his security clearance and subsequent firing. Fitzgerald asked his law firm at the time to represent Buttino on a pro-bono basis.

As a result of the settlement, the FBI renounced its prior policy of viewing homosexuality as a negative factor in regard to security clearances. The agency also agreed to hire an openly Lesbian special agent, and Buttino's pension was restored.

In addition to Fitzgerald, only one other Gay judicial nominee is pending before the Senate: Edward DuMont, who was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Obama renominated DuMont for the position in January after the 111th Congress took no action on his appointment. DuMont's nomination has yet to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The extensive delay in moving his nomination forward has led to questions over what's preventing the Senate from taking action. The committee voted to approve the Fitzgerald nomination as it held over other scheduled business to start debate leading on legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The panel is expected to reconsider the legislation next week.

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