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Senate Confirms First Gay Male Federal Judge

by S Ralph July 25, 2011

By: Shannon Ralph

The US Senate made history last week by confirming, for the first time ever, an openly gay male to serve as a federal judge. After just 30 minutes of debate in which senators from both sides of the aisle praised the nominee and encouraged senators to vote for his nomination, the Senate confirmed J. Paul Oetken by a vote of 80-13. A simple majority was required for confirmation.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised the Senate for what he has called a “historic vote” confirming an openly gay male to the federal bench.

“Confirmation of Paul Oetken serves as a role model for all LGBT people interested in serving on the judiciary and shows LGBT youth that hard work pays off,” Solmonese said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also extolled the confirmation of Oetken, stating, “All of us in the Senate can also be proud that Mr. Oetken was reported with the support of every member of the Judiciary Committee — Democratic and Republican — and will be confirmed by what I believe will be an overwhelming vote in the Senate. It is a sign that, as a nation, we have taken a new and welcome step on the path of ensuring that our Federal judiciary better reflects all Americans.”

Oetken has practiced law with the firm Debevoise and Plimpton, and since 2004, served as associate general counsel at Cablevision. From 1999 to 2001, Oetken was associate counsel to President Clinton and specialized in First Amendment issues, presidential appointments, ethics, civil rights, and legal policy. Oetken also co-authored a U.S. Supreme Court friend-of-the-court brief in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down sodomy laws throughout the country.

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