By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com September 24 2013 1:38 PM ET
The U.S. Senate today confirmed Todd Hughes as a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, making him the highest-ranking openly gay judge in the nation.
The Senate confirmed his nomination by a vote of 98-0, a White House aide said. There has never before been an openly gay judge on the U.S. courts of appeal, which are the second-highest courts in the nation. Only the U.S. Supreme Court ranks above them.
There are six openly gay federal judges currently serving at the district court level, all nominated by President Obama. “Like all of the President’s judicial nominees, Hughes has the intellect, experience, integrity, and temperament to be a successful judge,” wrote Kathryn Ruemmler in a White House blog post today. “He is also gay.”
The Federal Circuit is unique among appeals courts because it “specializes in a handful of designated issues including international trade, government contracts, patents, trademarks, veterans’ benefits, and public safety officers’ benefits claims,” The Washington Post explains. Since 2007, Hughes has dealt with such issues as deputy director of the commercial litigation branch of the Justice Department’s civil division. He was previously a trial attorney with the Justice Department. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and his master’s and law degrees from Duke University.
Hughes is “a problem solver” who “can do very complicated constitutional issues,” his friend Geovette Washington, the Office of Management and Budget’s general counsel, told the Post. She added, “I have always been amazed by how intelligent he is, but also how practical he is. He’s dug in and done the hard work on those issues.” She further noted that Hughes has argued cases before the Federal Circuit many times, preparing him well for the judgeship.
Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz told the Post that Hughes is “an eminently qualified nominee who will happen to shatter a barrier as the first openly gay federal appellate court judge. It’s a testament to how far we have come as a country that his sexual orientation is irrelevant to his ability to serve on our nation’s courts.”