From left: Beth Robinson courtesy American Law Institute; Charlotte Sweeney courtesy Sweeney & Bechtold.
Judicial nominations announced Thursday by President Joe Biden include two lesbians with long records of human rights work.
Beth Robinson, the first out justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, is a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first out lesbian to serve on any federal circuit court. Charlotte Sweeney, a Denver-based attorney specializing in employee rights, is a nominee for the U.S. District Court for Colorado. She would be the first out federal judge in the state and the first woman from the LGBTQ+ community to be a federal district court judge in any state west of the Mississippi.
Robinson, as an attorney, 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.
Sweeney is currently a partner at Sweeney & Bechtold, where she has practiced since 2008. Her law practice is devoted to representing individuals in employment law cases, dealing with discrimination, wrongful termination, and other issues. She was a partner with LaFond & Sweeney from 1999 to 2008 and LaFond & Bove from 1997 from 1999. She began her career as an associate with LaFond & Clausen in 1995 and was named a partner at the firm in 1998.
She is a graduate of California Lutheran University and University of Denver College of Law. She is a member of the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s board of directors.
Biden also announced the nominations of two other judges: Mary Katherine Dimke for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington and John P. Howard III for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
All the nominees are "extraordinarily qualified, experienced, and devoted to the rule of law and our Constitution," says a White House press release. "These choices also continue to fulfill the President’s promise to ensure that the nation’s courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country — both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds."
This was Biden's sixth round of judicial nominations, bringing his total number of nominees to 35.
LGBTQ+ groups praised the choices of Robinson and Sweeney. “Without comprehensive federal protections, the courts remain a lifeline to LGBTQ people when it comes to ensuring that we are treated equally under the law,” said a statement from Zeke Stokes, a consultant to GLAAD and President of ZS Strategies. “President Biden is moving swiftly to nominate judges to the federal bench who represent a diverse cross section of Americans and support full LGBTQ equality, including two historic LGBTQ nominations today. The U.S. Senate must now move expeditiously to confirm these highly qualified candidates.”
Sharita Gruberg, vice president for the Center for American Progress’s LGBTQ Research and Communications Project, issued the following statement: "President Biden’s nomination of Vermont State Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson, who would be the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal appellate court, is a historic and an important step. An accomplished jurist and attorney, Justice Robinson is eminently qualified to serve on the Second Circuit.
"The judiciary is strengthened when it reflects the diversity of America — including LGBTQ Americans. This diversity is even more critical given far-right activists’ continued attempts to use the legal system to dismantle the basic civil rights of LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people. The nomination of Justice Robinson — as well as Charlotte Sweeney, who would be the first openly LGBTQ federal judge in Colorado — is a critical step forward for the federal bench."