The U.S. Senate confirmed two out nominees to federal judgeships today, marking the first time that two openly gay judicial nominees have been confirmed to the federal bench on the same day.
The action was history-making in several ways. Judge Darrin Gayles, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is the first openly gay African-American man to be confirmed as a lifetime-appointed federal judge, according to a White House press release. He was previously a circuit judge in Florida.
Staci Yandle, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, is the first African-American to serve on her court and the first openly gay lifetime-appointed federal judge in Illinois. Yandle, who has practiced law for more than 20 years, is only the second out African-American lesbian confirmed to a federal judgeship. The first was Deborah Batts in the Southern District of New York, nominated by President Clinton 20 years ago. With Yandle’s confirmation, President Obama has appointed more women judges than any other president, breaking the record set by Clinton.
Also confirmed today was a straight nominee, Salvador Mendoza, who becomes the first Hispanic judge to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. Obama has now also appointed more Hispanic judges than any other president, breaking the record previously held by President George W. Bush. Obama had already nominated more African-American judges and openly gay and lesbian judges than any of his predecessors.
The National Black Justice Coalition issued a statement praising the appointments. “I am thrilled that the Senate has confirmed attorney Yandle and Judge Gayles to the federal bench,” said Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director and CEO. “NBJC celebrates both confirmations that will inspire so many in the black and LGBT communities. In addition, we celebrate the vast life experiences that they will take with them to the federal bench as they work to render impartial decisions. It’s a significant sign of progress in our nation when two individuals are judged solely on their merits when being considered for these important lifetime appointments.”
Lambda Legal also hailed the confirmations but noted that the court system still needs more diversity. “Today, it is more important than ever that our courts reflect the growing diversity of our country, but we have a long way to go,” said a statement from Fair Courts Project manager Eric Lesh. “There are nearly 900 federal judges in the U.S., and most are white men. Federal courts are charged with providing everyone with equal access to justice, and yet justice has not always been a reality for some. A diverse judiciary serves not only to improve the quality of justice, but to boost public confidence in the courts.”