Politics

Obama Nominee Would Be First Out Gay Federal Appeals Court Judge

Todd M. Hughes, an attorney with the Department of Justice, is the second out gay judge nominated to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Charles Dharapak / AP

WASHINGTON — One of President Obama’s two nominees Thursday for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Todd M. Hughes, would become the first out gay appeals court judge in the country, if confirmed by Congress.

Hughes currently is the deputy director of the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Civil Division at the United States Department of Justice. The White House states the Hughes also has served as an adjunct lecturer in law with the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and as an instructor for Duke University’s writing program.

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals is a specialty court. Unlike other federal appeals courts, the federal circuit only considers a limited docket of cases: appeals of patent cases, appeals from the Court of Claims and other specifically delineated areas of appeal. Other appeals court, in contrast, have the cases they hear determined by geography.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which runs the Presidential Appointments Project to support out LGBT candidates for appointments, praised the nomination.

“If confirmed, Todd Hughes would become the first openly gay federal appeals court judge in U.S. history. His nomination is a testament to the expanding opportunities for openly LGBT Americans who want to serve their country, and to the president’s respect for the depth of talent and experience within the LGBT community. We look forward to his confirmation by the U.S. Senate,” Victory Fund president Chuck Wolfe said in a statement.

In announcing the nomination, the White House released the following biographical information about Hughes:

Hughes received his A.B. from Harvard College in 1989 and completed a joint degree program with Duke University, earning both his J.D. with honors and his M.A. in English in 1992. After graduating from law school, Hughes clerked for the Honorable Robert B. Krupansky of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In 1994, he joined the Commercial Litigation Branch as a trial attorney. Five years later, he was appointed to be Assistant Director for Commercial Litigation, a role he held until assuming the title of Deputy Director in 2007. Throughout his career with the Department of Justice, Hughes’s practice has been devoted to matters of federal personnel law, veterans’ benefits, international trade, government contracts, and jurisdictional issues regarding the United States Court of Federal Claims. He has extensive experience before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the United States Court of International Trade, and the United States Court of Federal Claims, and he has garnered a number of special commendations from the Department of Justice and a special contribution award from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Obama also nominated Raymond T. Chen, who is currently the deputy general counsel for intellectual property law and solicitor for the United States Patent and Trademark Office, to the Federal Circuit on Thursday.

Hughes is the second out gay attorney Obama has nominated for the Federal Circuit. The first, Edward DuMont, was nominated in the 111th Congress and renominated in the 112th Congress, but DuMont withdrew his name when it became clear that his nomination was not going to proceed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Although Democratic aides on the committee pointed to Republican unwillingness to proceed, Republican aides countered that Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy could have brought the nomination forward if he had wanted to do so.

There are a handful of out LGBT federal trial court judges — one who was nominated by President Clinton and the others by Obama — but there has never been an out LGBT appeals court judge in the federal courts.

Currently serving out LGBT federal lifetime-tenured judges include Judges Deborah Batts, who is on senior status in the Southern District of New York; Judges Paul Oetken and Alison Nathan, both also of the Southern District of New York; and Judge Michael Fitzgerald of the Central District of California.

Out judicial nominees renominated at the start of this Congress include Pamela Ki Mai Chen, nominated for the Eastern District of New York; Michael McShane, District of Oregon; William Thomas, Southern District of Florida; and Nitza Quiñones Alejandro, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Geidner covers the Supreme Court and also reports extensively on LGBT legal issues around the country. Geidner won the 2014 National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact this reporter at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com
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