August 3, 2012
By Jacob Combs
Yesterday, President Obama nominated federal prosecutor Pamela Chen to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, making her the first openly gay Asian-American nominated to the federal bench. Of the more than 900 lifetime judgeships in the United States, only one is currently held by a Chinese-American and only two are held by out gay women.
In his nomination, Obama referenced Chen’s work as an attorney in New York, saying “Pamela Chen has a long and distinguished record of service, and I am confident she will serve on the federal bench with distinction.” Chen attended the University of Michigan and Georgetown Law, worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York from 1998 on, and was the deputy commissioner for enforcement at the New York State Division of Human Rights for four months in 2008. Her boss, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, told NY Daily News that Chen is “quite simply, the complete package.”
Chen marks the fifth openly gay attorney President Obama has nominated to the federal bench. Out gays and lesbians are woefully underrepresented in the federal judiciary, with only one currently sitting judge, Deborah Batts, a Clinton appointee, predating Obama’s presidency. Three of Obama’s gay nominees were confirmed; one withdrew his nomination out of frustration with the slow pace of confirmation in the current Senate. Chen’s nomination will now go to the Senate, where Republicans have made significant efforts to stymie the confirmation process.