By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has hired a veteran Senate staffer as a senior counselor also tasked with serving as a representative to the gay community. The hire comes amid efforts by the Obama administration to mollify growing impatience and displeasure among gay men and lesbians with how the White House is handling issues important to them.
Matt Nosanchuk once worked for the Justice Department's Office of Policy Development and handled judiciary and civil rights issues for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). He also advised Barack Obama's presidential campaign on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Justice Department officials said that Nosanchuk, who has campaigned on behalf of politicians supporting gay rights causes, will have a full portfolio of cases, like other senior lawyers in the division. He will spend the remainder of his time reaching out to constituencies on Capitol Hill and the LGBT community, they added.
Helen Norton, a law professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, played a similar role in the Clinton-era Justice Department. Back then, Norton worked as a deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, managing the employment litigation section.
Earlier this year, Loretta King, who is leading the Civil Rights Division on an acting basis, reinstated a working group that was devoted to LGBT issues but was disbanded during the Bush administration.
Word of Nosanchuk's hiring spread this week after Tobias Wolff, another LGBT campaign adviser to President Obama, informed colleagues of it in an e-mail. The Justice Department confirmed the move Tuesday.
The administration has been patching up relations with the gay community. On Monday, administration lawyers made it clear that Obama thinks the Defense of Marriage Act discriminates against gays and should be repealed. Two weeks ago, the Census Bureau announced that it will, for the first time, publicly release data on the number of same-sex marriages reported in next year's census. Earlier this summer, Obama extended some benefits to the gay partners of federal employees and expressed support for a House bill that would grant other benefits to those partners.