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Biden nominates 1st openly gay candidate for US appeals court

The president’s sixth round of judicial nominations included a historic first — a woman who could make history as the first out judge on any federal circuit court.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Continuing to make history with the diversity of his judicial nominations, President Joe Biden tapped two individuals who could make history for the LGBTQ community as part of a slate of four new potential judges Thursday. 

Justice Beth Robinson is currently serving as Vermont’s first openly LGBTQ member of the state Supreme Court — a post she’s held since 2011 — and would be the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal circuit court, if confirmed.

Recommended for the Second Circuit, Robinson is the lone federal appellate nomination in Thursday's announcement.

The now 56-year-old made significant headway for gay rights in her state more than 20 years ago serving as co-counsel in Baker v. State of Vermont — a major case wherein the Vermont Supreme Court found that the state's ban on same-sex marriage conflicted with an equal rights provision in the Vermont Constitution. The civil unions law, passed as a result of this case in 2000, was the first of its kind in the United States.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy praised the president’s nomination of Robinson in a statement Thursday, saying she has been a “tireless champion for equal rights and equal justice in the mold of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” 

“It is no exaggeration to say that Beth Robinson helped Vermont — and America — more fully realize the meaning of equality under the law...” Leahy said. “Beth’s successes provided a blueprint for advocates in other states to achieve more equality across the country.  As a result, Beth has widely — and rightfully — been hailed as one of our nation’s most important pioneers in the cause of LGBTQ rights.”

Prior to serving on the Green Mountain State’s high court, Robinson was an attorney for Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin between 2010 and 2011. Before that, she spent more than 15 years practicing civil law, representing clients in various employment, family, workers’ compensation and contract disputes. Robinson also served as a law clerk for a D.C. Circuit judge between 1989 and 1990.

In another openly LGBTQ nomination Thursday, Biden put forth attorney Charlotte Sweeney for a position in District of Colorado. If confirmed, Sweeney would be the first LGBTQ woman to serve as a federal district court judge west of the Mississippi. 

Sweeney has worked at her own firm, Sweeney & Bechtold, since 2008, where she represents clients in employment disputes. Prior to that, she was a partner at LaFond & Sweeney for nearly a decade.

For a federal judgeship in the Eastern District of Washington, Biden nominated U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Katherine Dimke. Dimke has been a magistrate judge in this same court since 2016. 

Before assuming this role, she served as an assistant U.S. attorney for both the Eastern and Western Districts of Washington between 2008 and 2016, spending four years at each branch. She also previously clerked for judges on the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle and the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.

Rounding out his slate of Thursday candidates, Biden put forward administrative law judge John Howard III for a seat on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Howard is a judge on the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings court, a position in which he has worked since 2018. He previously served as an administrative law judge with the District of Columbia Commission on Human Rights between 2014 and 2018 and prior to that worked as an attorney focused on civil litigation and family law.

The type of candidates put forward continues “to fulfill the president’s promise to ensure that the nation’s courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country — both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds,” the White House noted Thursday, touting that the president is introducing candidates faster than any other in recent history, including former President Donald Trump.

Eight of Biden’s federal nominations have been confirmed as of the beginning of August. By comparison, only four Trump nominees had been confirmed the same amount of time into the former president’s term. 

The nominations also line up with a letter sent out by White House counsel Dana Remus back in December 2020 that, according to a copy obtained by the Huffington Post, asked for senators to recommend a field of candidates who “have been historically underrepresented on the federal bench, including those who are public defenders, civil rights and legal aid attorneys, and those who represent Americans in every walk of life.”

Previous nomination rounds prioritized candidates from various racial, religious and professional backgrounds. Among them are Black, Asian, Puerto Rican and Native American nominees; nominees from a public defender background; and a Muslim nominee who would be the first Muslim American judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.  

While no timeline is set for hearings, former President Donald Trump's success in adding over 200 judges to federal benches nationwide reportedly lit a fire under Biden to match his predecessor's pace. Biden's nominations Thursday brought his number of federal judicial nominations up to 35.

Follow Alexandra Jones on Twitter.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Courts, Government

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