Seth Marnin has become the first out transgender man to serve as a judge in the United States and the first transgender person, of any gender, in New York State. He will serve on the New York Court of Claims.
A lawyer tapped for the position by New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in June, Marnin acknowledged the historic nature of his accomplishment on Aug. 14, when he officially took his oath of office.
Referencing the anti-trans sentiment currently on the rise across the country in prepared remarks, Marnin recalled speaking at a rally in 2018, led by his rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, in response to the Trump administration’s various attacks on transgender rights — “a precursor to what we’re seeing today.”
At that rally, Marnin outlined four ways to create more justice for transgender people: being out as both transgender people or allies; allowing trans people to drive the narrative about their identity; to do things that are uncomfortable, difficult, or inconvenient, and to have hope.
“That was five years ago, and I can say with a high degree of confidence that it was unimaginable then that I could be sworn in as a judge today,” Marnin said. “But here I am.”
Before Marnin’s nomination, no transgender man had ever served as a judge in any state.
Judge Victoria Kolakowski of California became the first-ever transgender trial judge in American history after winning an election to her position in 2010. That same year, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, an out lesbian, appointed Phyllis Frye as an associate judge for the city’s municipal courts.
In 2020, Jill Rose Quinn won a judicial election to become Illinois’s first transgender judge.
Last year, Andi Mudyrk was appointed to a seat on Sacramento County Superior Court in California.
Marnin, who hails from Albany, previously served as the director of training and education for the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action at Columbia University.
He previously worked as vice president for the Anti-Defamation League, has experience practicing employment law, and helped found the legal nonprofit organization Workplace Strategies, a consulting firm that advises nonprofits on legal issues related to nondiscrimination, sexual harassment, equal opportunity, and affirmative action.
On the Court of Claims, he will handle cases against the state and state-related agencies, boards, and commissions.
In his remarks, Marnin invoked the legacy of the late Judge Paul Feinman, the first out member of the New York Court of Appeals.
“I aspire to live up to his philosophy — to do what’s not popular or easy, but to do what’s true and just under the law,” he said.
Speaking with Gay City News after the swearing-in ceremony, Marnin emphasized that his new position will require him to shift away from activism due to the need to be impartial. But he also hopes that, as one of the few transgender judges in the United States, he can still serve as a role model for and inspire other transgender individuals.
“I think the opportunity to be a role model to others is very exciting, and since the nomination and the news coverage, I’ve heard from young people around the country,” he said.
Marnin said he considered himself “very lucky” to take advantage of some of the opportunities afforded him.
“A couple years ago, I thought maybe I could [end up as a judge], but you never know how the process will go, and so when I received the call it was extremely humbling,” he said. “It wasn’t so long ago that it was unimaginable.”
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