March 15, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
Today Michael Fitzgerald, nominated for a judgeship at the U.S. District Court of Central California, became the fourth out LGBT federal judge. Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly reports that he is also:
“the first out LGBT Article III judge serving outside of New York City. Article III judges — referencing the judicial powers detailed in the Constitution — are nominated by the president, given consent by the Senate to serve and have lifetime tenure.”
Republicans have been stalling President Obama’s judicial nominees even in areas where “judicial emergencies” have been declared because there are so many vacancies that it’s creating enormous backlogs of cases.
Earlier in the week, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid filed for cloture on 17 of President Obama’s judicial nominees, including the nomination of Fitzgerald:
Reid filed a procedural motion that allows the Senate to begin debate on the confirmation of 17 of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, whose nominations Republicans have held up for months. Some district judge nominees have been stuck in limbo since November, Reid said, and 11 are from “judicial emergency states” where there aren’t enough judges to hear the cases piling up.
“These long waits have nothing to do with the qualifications of these nominees. They’re often confirmed unanimously. What does that say? It says that the wait is dilatory. It’s delay for delay’s sake,” he said on the Senate floor. “As we know here, the Republican leader [Mitch McConnell] has said his number one goal in this Congress is to defeat President Obama. And this is a part of it.”
Yesterday, Reid’s move was publicly backed by the White House, with the White House’s counsel commenting:
“What the president is really asking — what he’s demanding — is that the Senate do its job on behalf of the American people,” White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler told reporters. “There are three branches of government in our constitutional system, and the executive branch and the Congress have responsibility to ensure that the third branch of government, the judiciary, can function.”
“President Obama has lived up to his responsibility, and it is time for the legislative branch, for the Congress to live up to its responsibility,” she said.
So today, the Senate moved forward on Fitzgerald’s nomination. He was easily confirmed, by a vote of 91-6.
From the Washington Blade we learn that Fitzgerald participated in LGBT activism, and specifically the No on 8 campaign in California:
In his questionnaire response to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Fitzgerald wrote that he has participated in some LGNT activism, including the 2008 campaign against Proposition 8 as a door-knocker. Fitzgerald is also a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Gay & Lesbian Caucus. From 2007 to 2008, he served on the leadership task force for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. In the 1990s, he was a member of the Stonewall Democratic Club.
Metro Weekly noted, interestingly, that there were no speakers in opposition, even though some Republicans voted no:
No one spoke in opposition to the nomination, the vote on which was announced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who was presiding. Senators voting “no” were Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and David Vitter (R-La.).
It seems like gay nominees have had a difficult time getting confirmed by this Senate, so one wonders why there was no vocal opposition to Fitzgerald. Perhaps that’s because he was very well qualified as a Harvard graduate and former federal prosecutor:
LGBT advocates praised the confirmation of Fitzgerald and said his previous work over the years as an attorney makes him qualified for the position on the bench. Fitzgerald has had experience in private practice in addition to working as a U.S. attorney.
Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Fitzgerald’s legal experience “makes him an excellent choice for the federal bench.”
“He joins a still very small but growing group of openly LGBT federal judges, and we commend the Obama administration for making sure these esteemed positions are open to all qualified Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Wolfe said.
Since federal courts are lifetime positions, it’s exceptional that the number of out LGBT nominees is increasing. He joins recently confirmed judges Alison Nathan and Paul Oetken on the federal judiciary.