The U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment of J. Paul Oetken as a federal district judge for the Southern District of New York on Monday, making him the first openly gay man approved to serve on the federal bench.
Oetken was confirmed by a vote of 80 to 13 on Monday evening. President Barack Obama nominated him for the bench in January on the recommendation of Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
"As the first openly gay man to be confirmed as a federal judge, Paul Oetken is living proof that it really does get better," said Schumer in a news release after the confirmation. "His confirmation moves us one step closer toward equality. But long after today, what the history books will remember about Paul are his achievements as a fair and brilliant judge, his unwavering dedication to public service and the Constitution of the United States, and his commitment to the rule of law."
Oetken, an associate general counsel at Cablevision, is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Yale Law School. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun, and he also served as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton from 1999 to 2001 before practicing law at Debevoise and Plimpton. He coauthored a Supreme Court amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, in which the court struck down all remaining U.S. sodomy laws.
In remarks on the Senate floor just before the vote, Schumer said that Oetken brought "diversity," which he called a "bonus" in addition to his attributes of "excellence and moderation."
"But in this case, at this moment, Paul is not just an excellent candidate," said the senator. "As the first openly gay man to be confirmed as a federal judge and to serve on the federal bench, he will be a symbol of how much we have achieved as a country in just the last few decades."
Oetken will join U.S. District judge Deborah Batts on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Judge Batts, who was appointed during the Clinton administration, is the first openly LGBT person to sit on a federal court.
President Obama also has nominated Alison Nathan, an out lesbian, for a judgeship in the Southern District of New York, also on recommendation from Schumer. Her confirmation awaits a vote in the full Senate after a hearing last month. Edmund Dumont, who is gay, has been nominated by President Obama to serve as an appellate judge on the U.S. court of appeals for the federal circuit, but his nomination still awaits a hearing.