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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Openly Gay Federal Judges: More Than a Dream?

As the progressive community adjusts to life with the Obama administration, the LGBT community is starting to dream about the possibility of openly gay federal judges. The Bay Area Reporter, a San Francisco outlet, published an article today examining the possibility of just such appointments.

Of the more than 1,300 federal judges, only one, Deborah Batts (appointed by President Clinton to the South District of New York), is believed to be openly gay. And news of her sexual orientation was not known until after her confirmation. Robert Raben, founder of the Raben Group and Alliance for Justice board member, called the lack of LGBT judges “absurd” and in January, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund wrote a letter to President Obama calling for “fair and impartial nominees…who will address issues facing [the LGBT community] without bias.”

Following Lambda’s lead, many LGBT advocacy organizations are preparing to push the issue further. Both the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund are compiling lists of qualified LGBT candidates to provide to the Obama administration and AFJ has worked with all three organizations on gathering these names. But despite assurances by the new president that he is sympathetic to the goals of LGBT Americans, appointing out judges is likely to be a Herculean feat.

In 2007, one of President Bush’s own nominees faced Republican opposition simply because she attended the commitment ceremony of a family friend. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) blocked her nomination for months, claiming that her attendance at the ceremony signaled her support for gay marriage. If a heterosexual Republican nominee faced that kind of opposition in the Senate, just imagine what an openly LGBT candidate, nominated by a Democratic president might face. Silver lining? Sen. Brownback no longer serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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