Senate Approves Gay Judicial Nominee
March 15 2012 4:17 PM ET
WASHINGTON — In a vote described by California senator Barbara Boxer as “long overdue,” the U.S. Senate on Thursday approved the judicial nomination of Michael W. Fitzgerald, a gay Obama administration nominee for the federal bench.
A former assistant U.S. attorney and current partner in a Los Angeles law firm specializing in white collar criminal defense, Fitzgerald had been targeted in recent months by antigay groups.
But his nomination, Senator Boxer noted in brief floor remarks prior to the vote, had passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee in a unanimous vote more than four months ago. Confirmed today in a 91-6 floor vote, Fitzgerald will fill a vacancy in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
“It really shouldn’t take this long to confirm such a high-quality nominee, especially because this seat has been designated a judicial emergency,” Boxer said. “[Fitzgerald] is a respected member of the Los Angeles legal community and will make an excellent addition to the Central District of California."
Fitzgerald was one of two judicial nominees voted on Thursday afternoon, the other being Gina Marie Groh, nominated to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia (she was also confirmed).
Fitzgerald is the third openly LGBT nominee from the Obama administration confirmed by the Senate, joining U.S. district judges Alison Nathan and Paul Oetken.
Last year, Fitzgerald's nomination came under predictable fire by social conservative groups seeking to derail it. "[Fitzgerald's] extracurricular activities among homosexual transgender organizations show a militant and aggressive predilection for innovation rather than a strict adherence to the rule of law,” leaders of the Traditional Values Coalition and FRC Action, a lobbying arm of the Family Research Council, wrote in separate letters last fall to Judiciary Committee members.
“Fitzgerald’s record of liberal activism is one that rivals Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in its extremism,” Traditional Values Coalition president Andrea Lafferty wrote.
But those protests fell on deaf ears in the Senate. Fitzgerald is, as Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on the floor, the first openly gay man confirmed by the Senate who will sit on the federal bench in California.
Like Boxer, Leahy also took a jab at the glacial pace of the nominees in the current Senate during debate.
"There’s never any good reason for the Senate not to proceed on these nominations,” he said.
Among those who voted against Fitzgerald's nomination Thursday were Republican senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
President Obama nominated Fitzgerald to the federal bench in July. "His impressive career stands as a testament to his formidable intellect and integrity," Obama said in a statement last summer. "I am confident he will serve the people of California with distinction on the District Court bench."
Fitzgerald thanked Boxer for her support following the confirmation.
“I am honored by the Senate’s confirmation vote today," he said. "I am grateful to the President for my nomination. I am grateful to Senator Boxer for her recommendation of me to the President. I am grateful to Senator Feinstein for her support in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I look forward to serving the people of the Central District of California.”
Update: Senator Boxer released the following statement late Thursday:
"The federal bench in California will gain an extremely talented new judge as a result of today’s historic vote to confirm Michael Fitzgerald. His sharp intellect and broad legal experience will make him a tremendous asset to the people of the Central District. While I am pleased by today’s overwhelming vote, it is shameful that he had to wait so long for a vote and I hope that Republicans will stop blocking the confirmation of highly qualified nominees."