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First Out Lesbian Judge Confirmed to Federal Appeals Court

Beth Robinson

Beth Robinson, a justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, has been confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, making her the first out lesbian to serve on any federal circuit court.

The U.S. Senate voted 51-45 Monday to confirm Robinson. President Joe Biden had nominated her for the position in August.

Her confirmation means the Second Circuit will now have a majority of Democratic appointees. The circuit hears appeals of cases from federal courts in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.

Robinson has a long record of human rights work. As an attorney, she was co-counsel in Baker v. State, the case that resulted in the 1999 Vermont Supreme Court ruling that the state must grant same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex ones. Because of that ruling, Vermont became the first state to adopt a civil union law. Then in 2009, the state legalized same-sex marriage, making it the fourth state with marriage equality and the first to enact it by legislation rather than a court ruling. Robinson advocated for that law as head of Vermont Freedom to Marry.

She was appointed to Vermont’s high court by Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2011. Before that, she spent a year as counsel to the governor, following 18 years as an attorney with Langrock Sperry & Wool. Previously, she was an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C., and a law clerk for Judge David B. Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago Law School.

Civil rights groups praised her confirmation. “Judge Robinson’s extraordinary professional expertise makes her well qualified for this important position and her confirmation as the first openly lesbian judge to a federal appeals court seat is cause for celebration for our community. LGBT representation in the courts is critical because judges that more accurately reflect the diversity of our nation give legitimacy to these important institutions, which have such a profound impact on the lives of so many. Judge Robinson’s lived and professional experiences will be assets in her work to fulfill our nation’s promise of justice.

“We expect that Judge Robinson’s historic nomination and confirmation will not be the only ‘first’ during the Biden administration for the LGBTQ community, who are woefully underrepresented in the federal judiciary,” said a statement from Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer and legal director for Lambda Legal. “There are 870 federal judgeships, but only 13 — now 14 — are held by openly gay or lesbian judges. Five federal circuits do not have a single openly LGBT judge. And we are still awaiting our first openly bisexual or transgender judicial nominee. The delivery of justice will be stronger when these diverse perspectives are brought into the fold.”

“Beth Robinson’s confirmation is a milestone for the federal courts and a great development for the millions of people living and working in the Second Circuit,” said Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way. “Judge Robinson will be the first openly LGBTQ+ woman on any federal circuit court. She has served with distinction on the Vermont Supreme Court and has had a notable legal career upholding workers’ rights and LGBTQ+ rights. With every new confirmation of a federal judge, the Biden-Harris administration and Senate leadership are moving us closer to the ideal of a federal judiciary that truly serves all the people, not just the privileged few. And they are doing it at a rate that demonstrates their commitment to the courts as the top priority that they are.”    

“Justice Beth Robinson’s significant civil rights experience will benefit the Second Circuit immensely,” added Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Her fair-minded career on the Vermont Supreme Court and her tireless work for LGBTQ equality and the rights of working people demonstrate her commitment to equal justice. As the first openly lesbian judge to serve on a federal appellate court, Justice Robinson’s confirmation makes our judiciary more reflective of our nation.”

Tags: News, Law, Lesbian, Women

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