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U.S. Senate confirms first openly gay man to serve as federal court judge

Monday, July 18, 2011
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The U.S. Senate on Monday evening confirmed confirmed J. Paul Oetken to the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, and the first openly gay man to serve as federal judge in U.S. history.

Paul Oetken

By a vote of 80-13, Oetken was confirmed with no opposition from Senate Democrats and a majority of the Republicans supporting his nomination as well.

Oetken, 45, will take his seat as a federal judge in Manhattan after President Barack Obama signs his commission, which could be as soon as this week, according to the office of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York).

Schumer, who recommended the appointment last year to Obama, praised Oetken’s background and experience on the Senate floor shortly before the vote, saying “His confirmation will only improve the workings of one of the best and one of the busiest courts in the country.”

Oetkin, a graduate of Yale Law School, served as associate counsel to the President in the Clinton White House and as an attorney-advisor with the Clinton Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Most recently, he has worked as senior vice president and associate general council for Cablevisions Systems Corporation. Oetkin served as a clerk for former Justice Harry Blackmun, one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s more liberal justices.

Oetken was nominated to the Court bu President Obama on January 26.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy praised Oetken as “a superbly qualified nominee,” and hailed Obama for the ground-breaking nomination.

Oetken becomes the second openly gay judge in that federal district –- along with Deborah Batts. He will also be the third openly gay federal judge in the country — along with Emily Hewitt of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Batts and Hewitt were both appointed by President Clinton.

On Thursday, July 14, the the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Alison Nathan’s nomination to become a federal judge to the Senate floor. If confirmed, Nathan — who is openly lesbian and nominated to a seat on the same court as Oetken — would be the fourth openly gay individual nominated by the Obama Administration for a judicial appointment.

Ed DuMont, another openly gay nominee, is also awaiting confirmation by the Senate. Marisa Demeo was confirmed in 2010 to serve as Associate Judge on the D.C. Superior Court.s

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