First openly gay man confirmed as U.S. federal judge

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Paul Oetken, a former Clinton administration lawyer and out gay man, as a federal judge. Via The New York Times:

Mr. Oetken won Senate confirmation by a vote of 80 to 13. He will take his seat as a federal judge in Manhattan after President Obama signs his commission, which may be as soon as this week, according to the office of Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

“When there are so many qualified gay and lesbian people and none of them get on the bench, you scratch your head and wonder why,” said Mr. Schumer, who recommended the appointment last year to Mr. Obama. “But the old barriers that existed in society are crumbling. That’s what this will say.”

Well, I don’t know if I exactly “scratch my head and wonder why,” Senator Schumer. But, fuck yeah, let the old barriers crumble! And, as Dana Milbank points out, what’s so heartening is that this confirmation, which “would at one time have been a flashpoint in the culture wars,” went down in a very unremarkable way. A majority of Senate Republicans–28 of them!–even voted to approve.

Oetken joins Judge Deborah Batts, who became the first out lesbian judge when she was confirmed in 1994. As the Bilerico Project notes, this is “another important milestone in the acceptance of gay people in our national politics.” Here’s to many more to come.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • rhian

    What about Vaughan Walker, who recently declared CA’s Prop 8 unconstitutional? Isn’t he a federal judge?

    • davenj

      Vaughn Walker wasn’t openly gay. He was outed during the Prop 8 review. This is a case of the judge’s sexuality being known BEFORE being appointed as a federal judge.

  • Aaron

    Word, now a gay dude can order a needle put in a poor black dudes arm. Let the old barriers crumble! Victory!

    Oetken has been a part of the beltway legal establishment for decades, I don’t think we should be too surprised that 28 US Senators voted for him. Oetken was an associate of one of the biggest corporate law firms on the planet, representing the largest arms manufacturers, polluters, and banks in the world, such as Dow Chemicals, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Fannie Mae, etc. He only moved on from that to serve in Clinton’s Dept. of Justice, where some of the most backward laws such as expanding the federal death penalty into non-violent crimes, or eliminating access to federal student loans to federal or state inmates.

    Shouldn’t this more be a moment for critical discussion for the queer movement vs. a moment of uncritical celebration?