First Openly Gay Man Confirmed to Federal Court

J. Paul Oetken was confirmed as a federal judge last night, making him the first openly gay man to serve on the federal bench in the U.S.

Last night, J. Paul Oetken was confirmed as a federal judge for the Southerm District of New York by the U.S. Senate. It makes him the first openly gay man in U.S. history to be appointed to the bench. He joins Judge Deborah Batts, the first openly gay person to ever sit on federal court.

Oetken was confirmed by a vote of 80 to 13, according to news reports, after being nominated by President Barack Obama in January.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who first recommended Oetken to the administration, says in a recent statement: “As the first openly gay man to be confirmed as federal judge, Paul Oetken is living proof that it really does get better. His confirmation moves us one step closer toward equality. But long after today, what the history books will remember about Paul are his achievements as a fair and brilliant judge, his unwavering dedication to public service and the Constitution of the United States, and his commitment to the rule of law.”

So who is Oetken?

He’s been the associate general counsel at Cablevision and a graduate of the University of Iowa and Yale Law School. He also served as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton between 1999 and 2001 and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun before practicing with Debevoise & Plimpton.

Perhaps most interesting: He co-authored the Supreme Court brief on the case Lawrence v. Texas in which the court struck down all remaining U.S. sodomy laws.

Obama also nominated lesbian Alison Nathan for judge in the same district (her confirmation hearing is expected next month) and Edmund Dumont, a gay man, for appellate judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals – also awaiting hearing.

“Throughout their careers, these distinguished men and women have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to public service,” Obama said in a statement. “I am confident they will serve the American people with distinction from the District Court bench.”