Charles Schumer Makes Case for Gay Judges

BY Julie Bolcer

October 26 2011 3:00 AM ET

Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the judiciary committee, sent a statement that reiterated questions he raised about experience, reliance on foreign law and the death penalty during Nathan’s confirmation hearing. Grassley voted to confirm Oetken.

“Sen. Grassley’s record shows he doesn’t vote based on sexual orientation,” said the statement. “His vote in this case was based on experience level and strongly held views that might influence the nominee’s decisions on the bench. As he said, Ms. Nathan graduated from law school only 11 years ago and has been admitted to practice law for only eight years. Her questionnaire states she served as associate counsel on approximately six trial court litigation matters. Most of the significant litigation she lists is from her current position in the New York Solicitor General’s Office. In addition, he said he is concerned about her views on 2nd Amendment rights, on the death penalty, on the use of foreign law, and her remarks regarding the war on terrorism.”

There are no standardized procedures by which senators recommend candidates for the federal bench, a fact that prompts complaints about transparency but appears not to have harmed diversity in New York. Schumer makes his recommendations with input from a screening committee familiar with his criteria. His office refused to discuss the membership of the panel, but many senators are known to maintain informal networks of legal professionals that recruit, interview and review prospective candidates.

The senator acknowledged he relied on a gay grapevine of sorts several years ago when he first found out there were no openly gay men on the federal bench. He said he “sent out word” in the gay community, which in New York enjoys visible leadership, a deep pool of legal talent, and strong protections including a marriage equality law that took effect in July. Schumer, who voted for DOMA in the House in 1996, announced his support for same-sex marriage in 2009 and advocated for the measure in his state.

“I hope to set an example, in a way, for my colleagues that you can have excellence and you can have moderation and diversity as well,” he said. “My goal has been to make the bench look more like America. I hope we get to a day where none of these things matter, but we’re not in that day yet.”







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