Obama Nominates Out Gay Black Judge To Federal Bench

Obama said Judge William Thomas and other nominees "represent my continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves." Thomas would be the first gay black man on the federal judiciary.

Posted on

The White House announced on Wednesday that President Obama has nominated Judge William Thomas, an out gay man, to serve on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Thomas would be the first out LGBT black man to serve as a lifetime-tenured federal judge.

In a statement, Obama noted the diversity of Thomas and six other nominees, saying, "They ... represent my continued commitment to ensure that the judiciary resembles the nation it serves."

He added, "These individuals have demonstrated the talent, expertise, and fair-mindedness Americans expect and deserve from their judicial system. I am grateful for their willingness to serve and confident that they will apply the law with the utmost impartiality and integrity. Too many of our courtrooms stand empty. I hope the Senate will promptly consider all of my nominees and ensure justice for everyday Americans."

Thomas is the first out LGBT black judge to be nominated by Obama, but, if approved by the Senate, he would be the second out LGBT black judge. The first, Judge Deborah Batts, also was the first out LGBT federal judge. She was nominated by President Clinton and sat on the Southern District of New York bench. She took "senior status," a near retirement, earlier this year.

It is unlikely, due to the time nominations take to proceed in the current Congress, that Thomas, currently a state-court judge in Florida, would see a vote on his nomination in this Congress.

Thomas joins Pamela Ki Mai Chen, an out lesbian nominated this summer to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and Judge Michael McShane, an out judge nominated in September to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, in the line of judicial nominees waiting for Judiciary Committee action on their nomination and the subsequent Senate votes.

Obama has now nominated seven out lawyers for lifetime-tenured federal judgeships, three of whom already have been approved by the Senate. Judges J. Paul Oetken and Alison Nathan both now sit on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which is in Manhattan. Judge Michael Fitzgerald sits on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The final out LGBT Obama judicial nominee, Edward DuMont, eventually had his nomination withdrawn after there was no movement on it over the course of two sessions of Congress. He was nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the 111th and 112th congresses, but the nomination was later withdrawn. Democrats cited Republican opposition, but Republicans noted that Democrats could have moved forward regardless of the Republicans' views.

Denis Dison of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund told BuzzFeed that Thomas was recommended for a judgeship by the Presidential Appointments Project, which the Victory Fund coordinates.

Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.