Obama Appoints Eight Nominees to Federal Bench

By: Lisa Keen/Keen News Service–

President Obama Tuesday (November 27) nominated Judge Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro to a federal district court seat in Philadelphia, bringing to eight the number of openly gay people he has nominated for the federal bench.

While Judge Quiñones declined to make any comment to a reporter concerning her nomination, the Human Rights Campaign posted on its website that, if confirmed, Quiñones “would be the first out gay Hispanic woman to serve on the federal bench.”

U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) recommended the nomination of Quiñones and two other Pennsylvania judges to the president. In a joint statement released November 27 with Casey, Toomey – who earned the lowest score possible on HRC’s most recent legislative scorecard– praised Quiñones for her “extensive experience in the courtroom” and for having “remained active in her community through her work with schools and mentoring summer law interns.”

Neither the White House nor the senators cited any connection between Quiñones and the LGBT community. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund said Quiñones was not nominated in connection with its Presidential Appointments Project. And the National LGBT Bar Association said Quiñones is not a member of that group. Through an assistant, Quiñones declined to respond to a reporter’s questions on any matter.

Quiñones is currently a judge for the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, presiding over both civil and criminal cases. A press release from the White House noted she earned her law degree in 1975 from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law and began her legal career as a staff attorney for two years with the Community Legal Services, Inc., in Philadelphia, which helps residents with low incomes with their legal needs. From 1977 to 1979, she served as staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and, from 1979 to 1991, as staff attorney to the Department of Veterans Affairs. She has served as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas since 1991.

President Obama has nominated seven other openly gay people to the federal bench in his first term—three who were confirmed in 2011, three whose nominations are still pending, and one who withdrew after being blocked by Republican opposition.

The Senate confirmed Paul Oetken (on a vote of 80 to 13) and Alison Nathan (on a vote of 48 to 44) to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and Michael Fitzgerald (on a vote of 91 to 6) to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Edward DuMont, President Obama’s only openly gay nominee to serve at an appeals court level  –on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit — withdrew after it became clear Senate Republicans would not allow his nomination to be given an up-or-down vote.

In addition to Quiñones, the three pending nominees were announced since August this year. The president nominated Chicago-born Pamela Ki Mai Chen, 51, to serve on the U.S. District Court bench for the Eastern District of New York. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on her nomination in September. In her response to questions on a routine questionnaire to the Senate committee, Chen indicated she is a member of the National LGBT Bar Association. She began her legal career in 1986 as an associate litigator with the Washington, D.C., office of Arnold & Porter. She worked in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from 1991 to 1997, and then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. Chen became Chief of that office’s Civil Rights Litigation Unit in 2003, working on both civil and criminal matters, including hate crimes and human trafficking. She became Deputy Commission for Enforcement of the New York State Division of Human Rights in 2008

In September, President Obama nominated Pittsburgh native Michael McShane, 51, to the U.S. District Court for Oregon. McShane, who has served as a state circuit court judge in Portland, Oregon, since 2001, attended Northwestern School of Law. His resume to the Senate committee indicates he was a “resource coordinator” for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps between 1983-84, helping homeless parolees. He also noted he is a member of the Oregon Gay and Lesbian Law Association and served for four years on an HIV Services Planning Council.

And also in November, President Obama nominated Miami-Dade circuit court Judge William L. Thomas, an openly gay African American, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. A press release from the White House indicated Thomas earned his law degree from Temple University School of Law and, upon graduation in 1994, worked as an assistant public defender in the Miami-Dade County Public Defender’s Office. From 1997 to 2005, he worked as an assistant federal public defender. The 41-year-old native of Pennsylvania was recommended by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund’s Presidential Appointments Project.

There are 874 federal bench seats nationally, according to the U.S. Courts website. If the current pending nominees are confirmed, the total number of openly gay federal judges will stand at nine. Two other openly gay federal judges — Emily Hewitt and Deborah Batts– were appointed by President Clinton.

© 2012 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

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