Metro Weekly

Senate unanimously confirms first out gay federal appeals court judge

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Todd Hughes was unanimously confirmed, 98-0, by the U.S. Senate Tuesday to the bench of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit today, becoming the nation’s first out federal appeals court judge.

A Justice Department veteran, Hughes was one of two nominees to the bench of the federal appeals court announced by President Barack Obama in February. The 46-year-old Hughes had served as deputy director of the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Civil Division at the United States Department of Justice and is a graduate of Harvard College and Duke University. According to the White House, Hughes’s career with the Justice Department has focused on federal personnel law, veterans’ benefits, international trade, government contracts and jurisdictional issues regarding the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.  

“The United States Courts of Appeals are the second-highest courts in the nation – a level just below the Supreme Court – and there has never been an openly gay judge to serve on a Court of Appeals until now. Hughes’s historic confirmation is yet another ‘first’ among President Obama’s federal judges,” stated Kathryn Ruemmler, Assistant to the President and Counsel to the President, in a White House blog post. “We look forward to the ‘seconds’ and ‘thirds’ who will come after Todd Hughes and his fellow ‘firsts’ currently serving on our courts.”

Todd Hughes.jpgThe Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Hughes’s nomination to the full Senate by a voice vote on July 18 following a June hearing. The White House has routinely blasted Senate Republicans for slowing down the confirmation process for the president’s judicial nominees. With Hughes confirmed, 13 Obama nominees remain pending before the Senate — two circuit court nominees and eleven district court nominees.

Hughes was Obama’s second nomination of an out gay person to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. In April 2010, Obama nominated Edward DuMont, who eventually withdrew his nomination after waiting more than 18 months for a committee hearing. Democrats and Republicans pointed fingers at each other for the delay, with Democrats blaming Republicans for holding up the hearings and Republicans countering that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) could have called for a hearing at any time.

In contrast, Hughes was confirmed today with no opposition and widespread support from Senate Republicans.

“Judge Hughes is a remarkably qualified jurist who has served his country tirelessly, and today that commitment to service made history,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “As an openly gay man takes to the federal appellate court bench for the very first time, barriers to achievement for the next generation of LGBT young people are crumbling every day.”

According to HRC, Hughes is the eighth out gay federal judge with a lifetime appointment, including seven federal district court judges who were nominated by Obama.

“Todd’s confirmation speaks to the growing opportunity for LGBT Americans who want to serve their country, and to the president’s respect for the depth of talent and experience within the LGBT community,” added Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

[Photo: Barack Obama. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.