October 19, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Senate panel may vote Thursday on gay judicial nominee

Michael Walter Fitzgerald (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Senate committee may vote Thursday on the nomination of a judicial nominee who could become the fourth openly gay person to sit on the federal bench.

According to the Senate Judiciary Committee website, the panel is scheduled to consider the nomination of Michael Walter Fitzgerald, a gay attorney whom President Obama nominated in July for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The nomination is set for consideration as part of a group of five judicial nominees as well as a piece of legislation called the Discount Pricing Consumer Protection Act. The panel will meet at 10 am at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226.

The committee vote comes on the heels of a confirmation hearing for Fitzgerald last week in which the nominee faced little opposition to his potential appointment to the federal bench.

Fitzgerald is the fourth out federal judicial nominee chosen by the White House. If confirmed, he would be the first openly gay federal judge in California.

Although a vote for his nomination has been scheduled, the committee could hold off on reporting him out of committee.

Erica Chabot, a committee spokesperson, said rules enable any one member of the panel to delay the vote if he or she requests one.

“Our committee rules permit any member to request a one week/one meeting holdover on any nomination or bill listed for the first time on our agenda,” Chabot said. “The nominations listed for the meeting tomorrow are all listed for the first time, and are subject to that requested hold.”

Chabot added the request for a hold is usually exercised at the meeting itself.

The Senate has already confirmed three openly gay people to the federal bench. The first was Deborah Batts, who was nominated and confirmed for a position on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York during the Clinton Administration.

In July, the Senate confirmed with bipartisan support J. Paul Oetken to another seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, making him the first openly gay male to sit on the federal bench.

Last week, the Senate confirmed lesbian Alison Nathan for a seat of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by a vote 48-44. No Republicans voted for her.

Obama has also nominated Edward DuMont, who’s gay, for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The president renominated DuMont in January after the 111th Congress took no action on his appointment. DuMont’s nomination has yet to be considered by the full Senate — or even the Senate Judiciary Committee.

UPDATE: The Senate Judiciary Committee has held over the nomination of Fitzgerald as well as other judicial nominees scheduled for a vote under request from Republicans on the panel.

Chabot said the earliest time the committee could take up the nomination would be the week of Oct. 31.

“The Senate’s in recess next week, so the earliest possibility would be the following week; we typically have business meetings on Thursdays,” she said.

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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