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Senate Approves First Openly Gay Circuit Court Judge

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Tuesday Sep 24, 2013

The Senate made history today, unanimously voting to confirm the appointment of the first-ever openly gay judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Todd M. Hughes, who has been a deputy director in the civil division of the Justice Department since 2007, was confirmed by a vote of 98-0.

"I have always been amazed by how intelligent he is, but also how practical he is," Geovette Washington, who is the Office of Management and Budget's general counsel and has been friends with Hughes since they attended law school together told The Washington Post. She added that Hughes is well prepared for the Federal Circuit because he's appeared before it so many times, saying, "He's dug in and done the hard work on those issues."

Seven openly gay judges have already been confirmed to serve on district courts, which rank one level below the circuit courts. The first, Deborah Batts in the Southern District of New York, took senior status in April 2012, and the remaining six were all appointed by President Obama.

"Judge Hughes is an eminently qualified nominee who just happens to shatter a barrier as the first openly gay federal appellate court judge," Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for HRC, told the Washington Post. "It's a testament to how far we have come as a country that his sexual orientation is irrelevant to his ability to serve on our nation's courts."

According to the Huffington Post, Hughes is faring better than some of President Barack Obama's other key judicial nominees, namely those for the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The Obama administration has managed to win Senate approval for six openly gay nominees so far this term, five of them on July 30. The group included four ambassadors -- Dan Baer as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, John Berry as ambassador to Australia, Rufus Gifford as ambassador to Denmark and James Costos as ambassador to Spain -- along with Stuart Delery as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. The sixth was Elaine Kaplan, as a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The president has also appointed 13 openly gay officials this year who did not require Senate confirmation, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which has recommended a total of 195 candidates to the administration this term.

Florida Gay Judge Loses Support of Rubio

While Hughes nomination has not been a heavy lift, one of Obama’s other gay judicial nominees, Miami Judge William Thomas, ran into trouble this week. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) withdrew his support for Thomas’ appointment to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, saying he had issues with two of his decisions in criminal cases.

According to a New York Times article, without Rubio’s approval, Judge Thomas’s nomination to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, in Miami, is effectively blocked. President Obama nominated Thomas more than 10 months ago, with Rubio’s backing.

The other legislator, Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, had signed off on the nomination on July 24 after a background check raised no red flags. For a confirmation to proceed, nominees must secure the approval of both United States senators in their home state.

But Rubio cited qualms about how Judge Thomas handled a vehicular manslaughter case involving an individual enrolled in a drug-court program, and a murder case involving five defendants in which a young woman was raped and shot to death, and her boyfriend left for dead. Thomas ruled that two of the defendants, including a 15-year-old, were not read or did not understand their Miranda rights.

Had he been confirmed by the United States Senate, Judge Thomas would have become the first black openly gay man on the federal bench.

"As much as I would like to think that politics has nothing to do with this, it looks as if it does," Yolanda Strader, president of Miami’s largest association for black lawyers, told the New York Times. "It would be unfair to prevent a well-qualified judicial nominee from proceeding with the nomination process because he is an openly gay black male."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


  • Wayne M., 2013-09-24 21:12:09

    In my lifetime, I have seen the situation change from when LGBT people in federal offices in Canada and United States hid their sexuality out of fear of being dismissed to now when QUALIFIED openly LGBT persons are appointed to positions of leadership in federal offices. Thanks to those who fought these battles for well over half a century for what we have gained. I do hope we do not lose this progress by complacency.

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