February 8, 2010 at 11:55 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Schumer recommends nomination of first openly gay male federal judge

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is recommending to President Obama that he nominate for the first time ever an openly gay male to serve on the federal bench, according to the senator’s office.

The senator has designated Daniel Alter to serve as judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

For judicial nominations, presidents traditionally abide by the recommendations made by the senior senator from the state where there’s a vacancy, which in the case of New York is Schumer.

In a statement, Schumer said he recommended Alter because he’s “a brilliant attorney who possesses the knowledge, balanced views and temperament required of a federal judge.”

His outstanding leadership skills, his commitment to justice, and his extensive experience make him an exceptional choice for a position on the federal bench,” Schumer said. “I’m proud to nominate Daniel Alter. Period. But I am equally proud to nominate him because he is a history-maker who will be the first openly gay male judge in American history.”

A graduate of Columbia College and Yale Law School, Alter clerked for several judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

For six years, Alter was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he specialized in first amendment matters and became an expert on terrorism issues. He worked on al Qaeda cases and was on the prosecution team for the trials for the African embassy bombings of 1998.

Alter has also been an advocate for civil rights. As national director of the civil rights division of the Anti-Defamation League, Alter handled work on hate crimes both within the United States and abroad.

Schumer called Alter “a lawyer whose views have been tempered by a broad range of experiences” and “a candidate who would enhance the diversity of the federal bench.”

I have often said that I strive to appoint those with three qualities: excellence, moderation and diversity, and Mr. Alter fits that prescription to a ‘T,’” Schumer said.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, praised Schumer for recommending Alter to serve on the federal court.

“We’re entering an era where qualified people are no longer excluded from leadership positions because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Dison said. “Senator Schumer deserves applause for nominating Daniel Alter for a seat on the federal bench.”

Seats on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York have often been a springboard for judges to move onto higher positions. Before she was confirmed last year to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor held a federal judgship in the Southern District from 1992 to 1998.

While Alter would be the first openly gay male to serve on the federal bench, he wouldn’t be the first openly LGBT person. In 1994, President Clinton nominated Deborah Batts, an out lesbian, to serve as federal judge for the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, where she currently sits.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported this week that Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for Northern District of California is gay, although Walker wouldn’t comment on the allegations. Walker is presiding over Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a federal case that will determine the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex marriage in California.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Its hard to believe there are so few openly gay members of the Federal Judiciary. I remember all the people in the GLBT community who said Obama would nominate a gay or lesbian person to the Supreme Court seat currently held by Sotomayor. I knew that wasn’t going to happen, but if we start to see some appointments at the district and appeals court levels this might actually happen in the next ten years or so.

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