WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Todd Hughes' nomination to be a judge on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals on a 98-0 vote, making him the first out gay federal appellate judge in the nation's history.
President Obama nominated Hughes to the post on Feb. 7. He was the second out gay man he nominated for the Federal Circuit. The first nominee, Edward DuMont, never had his nomination advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee and it eventually was withdrawn.
Hughes, a 46-year-old Duke Law School graduate, has worked in the Department of Justice since 1994, currently serving as the deputy director of the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department's Civil Division. After graduating from law school in 1992, Hughes clerked for Judge Robert Krupansky of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for two years before starting at the Justice Department.
The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals is a specialty court that focuses on the issues that have been a part of Hughes' practice at the Justice Department. Unlike other federal appeals courts, the federal circuit only considers a limited docket of cases: appeals of patent cases, appeals from the Federal Court of Claims and other specifically delineated areas of appeal. Other federal appeals courts, in contrast, have the cases they hear determined by geography.
After a hearing on June 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Hughes' nomination to the full Senate on a voice vote on July 18, leading to Tuesday's historic vote.
"I am proud that today the Senate is finally taking this critical step to break down another barrier and increase diversity on our Federal bench," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said in a statement after Tuesday's vote.
The Alliance for Justice, which tracks judicial nominations, and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports out LGBT appointees and candidates, celebrated the confirmation.
"Today's vote to confirm Todd Hughes marks another milestone in the long journey toward justice and equality," Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said in a statement. "Alliance for Justice long has fought for a federal judiciary that reflects the full diversity of America and a confirmation process that evaluates candidates based on their legal expertise, not how they look or who they love."
"All of us at Victory Fund are thrilled with today's vote. Todd's confirmation speaks to the growing opportunity for LGBT Americans who want to serve their country, and to the president's respect for the depth of talent and experience within the LGBT community," Chuck Wolfe, the president of the Victory Fund, said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed.
Although several other of Obama's out LGBT judicial nominees have been approved by the Senate, The New York Times reported Tuesday morning that Sen. Marco Rubio had withdrawn his support for a Florida district court judicial nominee, Judge William Thomas, effectively holding up the nomination as one of the two home-state senators. Thomas would be the first out gay black male federal judge.
In addition to Thomas, after Hughes' confirmation, one other out nominee — Judith Levy, nominated for the Eastern District of Michigan — remains pending. She was nominated on July 25 and rated as "Unanimously Qualified" by the American Bar Association.
Currently serving out LGBT federal lifetime-tenured judges include Judge Deborah Batts, who is on senior status in the Southern District of New York; Judges Paul Oetken and Alison Nathan, both also of the Southern District of New York; Judge Michael Fitzgerald of the Central District of California; Judge Pamela Ki Mai Chen of the Eastern District of New York; Judge Michael McShane of the District of Oregon; and Judge Nitza Quiñones Alejandro of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.