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U.S. Senate confirms gay nominee to California federal court

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Thursday, March 15, 2012
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WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday confirmed to the bench a gay judicial nominee whom Republicans had held up for four months from receiving a floor vote along with other appointees.

Michael Fitzgerald, whom President Obama nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court of Central California in July, was approved by a vote of 91-6. A simple majority was required for confirmation. Among the senators voting “no” were Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

Michael Fitzgerald. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out his nomination in November unanimously by voice vote to the Senate floor, but his confirmation has been held up along with other nominees.

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who recommended the Fitzgerald nomination, spoke highly of him on the Senate floor prior to the vote as she chided Republicans for holding up his confirmation.

“He is an historic choice, and a vote of Mr. Fitzgerald’s nomination is long overdue, because he was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously 133 days ago, on Nov. 3, 2011,” Boxer said. “It really shouldn’t take this long to confirm such a highly-qualified nominee like Mr. Fitzgerald, especially because this seat has been designated a judicial emergency.”

According to Boxer’s office, former President George W. Bush’s district court nominees waited an average of 22 days as of March 2004 for confirmation after being reported out by the Judiciary Committee. Comparatively, President Obama’s district court nominees have waited an average of 93 days. Fitzgerald has waited 132 days for a vote on his nomination.

Fitzgerald was among 17 nominees pending before the Senate on which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture Monday as a result of Republicans objecting to floor votes on their confirmation. But as a result of a deal that was reached on Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans will move 12 district court judges and two circuit court judges through the confirmation process by May 7. Fitzgerald’s vote was locked in Thursday under the agreement.

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.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said he applauds for the Senate for the confirming Fitzgerald — calling him “eminently qualified nominee” — as he took a jab at Republicans for holding up the nomination for so long.

“We are disappointed that it took months for the Senate to consider his nomination because Republican leadership has been refusing to give President Obama’s judicial nominees a timely up or down vote,” Solmonese said.

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