April 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Senate panel to vote Thursday on gay judicial nominee

J. Paul Oetken (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Senate committee is set on Thursday to vote on the nomination of a New York attorney who could become the first openly gay male to sit on the federal bench.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on whether to report out the nomination of J. Paul Oetken, selected in January by President Obama to become a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York, during an executive business meeting at 10 am in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Along with Oetken, the committee is slated to vote on four other nominations: Goodwin Liu, nominated to become circuit judge for the U.S. Ninth Circuit; Esther Salas, nominated to become district judge for the District of New Jersey; Paul Engelmayer, nominated to become district judge for the Southern District of New York; and Ramona Manglona, nominated to become judge for the district court for the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Oetken nomination had been held over from a previous committee executive business meeting that took place last week.

Oetken has practiced law at Debevoise and Plimpton, and since 2004, served as associate general counsel at Cablevision. From 1999 to 2001, Oetken was associate counsel to President Clinton and specialized in First Amendment issues, presidential appointments, ethics, civil rights, and legal policy.

Additionally, Oetken served in various roles as an LGBT advocate. The nominee has been involved with Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union. Oetken also co-authored a U.S. Supreme Court friend-of-the-court brief in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down sodomy laws throughout the country.

Oetken is one of two pending out male nominees before the Senate. Edmund Dumont was nominated by Obama also in January to serve as an appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Whichever nominee first receives the 60 votes needed for confirmation would be the first openly gay male to sit on the federal bench.

Last week, Obama nominated Alison Nathan for another seat as a district judge for the Southern District of New York. She currently serves as special counsel to the solicitor general in the Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York.

Nathan wouldn’t be the first out lesbian to serve on the federal bench. 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.

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

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