Senate confirms Todd M. Hughes as first openly gay federal appeals judge

September 24, 2013

The Senate voted 98 to 0 on Tuesday to confirm the appointment of a Justice Department lawyer as the nation’s first openly gay judge on a federal appeals court.

Todd M. Hughes, who has served as deputy director of the commercial litigation branch of Justice’s Civil Division since 2007, will join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Hughes has specialized in the kinds of issues that come before the court, which focuses on a handful of designated topics ­including international trade, ­government contracts, patents, trademarks, and police and veterans’ benefits.

Hughes could not be reached for comment.

Geovette Washington, who is the Office of Management and Budget’s general counsel and has been friends with Hughes since they attended law school together, described him as “a problem solver” who “can do very complicated constitutional issues” but also brings a degree of pragmatism to cases.

White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler published a blog post celebrating the confirmation as “yet another ‘first’ among President Obama’s judges” and added: “We look forward to the ‘seconds’ and ‘thirds’ who will come after Todd Hughes and his fellow ‘firsts’ currently serving on our courts.”

Seven openly gay judges have already been confirmed to serve on district courts, which rank one level below the circuit courts. The first, Deborah Batts in the Southern District of New York, took senior status in April 2012, and the remaining six were all appointed by Obama.

“Judge Hughes is an eminently qualified nominee who will happen to shatter a barrier as the first openly gay federal appellate court judge,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. “It’s a testament to how far we have come as a country that his sexual orientation is irrelevant to his ability to serve on our nation’s courts.”

Hughes, a native of Delaware, Ohio, received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and both a law degree and a master’s degree in English from Duke University.

The Obama administration has won Senate approval for six openly gay nominees so far this term, five of them on July 30. The group included four ambassadors: Dan Baer to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, John Berry to Australia, Rufus Gifford to Denmark, and James Costos to Spain. The other two were Stuart Delery, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division at Justice, and Elaine Kaplan as a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

The president has also appointed 13 openly gay officials this year who did not require Senate confirmation, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

Thirteen judicial nominees remain pending on the Senate floor: two at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and 11 for district courts. The nominees include nine women and four African Americans.

One openly gay nominee, Miami judge William Thomas, ran into trouble this week when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew his support for Thomas’s judicial appointment in the Southern District of Florida, saying he had issues with two of his decisions in criminal cases. Without the support of both of his home-state senators, Thomas — who would have been the first openly gay black judge on the federal bench — will not move forward.

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