November 27, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Obama nominates lesbian Latina judge to Pa. court

President Obama nominated Nitza Quinones Alejandro to become a federal judge in Pennsylvania (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama has nominated for first time time ever an out lesbian Latina to serve as a federal judge, making another achievement for the LGBT community before the end of his first term.

The White House announced on Tuesday that Obama named Nitza Quiñones Alejandro as part of a group of three nominees to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Quiñones is a lesbian and was recommended by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

“These men and women have had distinguished legal careers and I am honored to ask them to continue their work as judges on the federal bench,” Obama said. “They will serve the American people with integrity and an unwavering commitment to justice.”

According to a bio provided by the White House, Quiñones already serves as a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, where she has presided since 1991 over both civil and criminal matters. Before that, Quiñones worked as a staff attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs and as an attorney advisor for the Department of Health & Human Services.

A Puerto Rico native, Quiñones received her law degree in 1975 from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law and graduated with honors in 1972 from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

In a joint statement with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Casey praised the judicial nominees that Obama made on Wednesday. The statement says each of three nominees were recommended by either Casey or Toomey.

“I’m pleased that the White House has nominated these exceptionally qualified members of the legal community to the bench,” Casey said. “I was proud to work in a bipartisan fashion with Sen. Toomey to nominate these individuals, and I’m hopeful that the Senate will work in a constructive manner to confirm them to the bench in the near future. I’m confident that these individuals who Sen. Toomey and I have recommended and the White House has nominated will serve with the highest standards and discharge justice in a fair and impartial way.”

Toomey, a Tea Party Republican who was elected to the Senate in 2010, also commended Quiñones for her record as he praised the additional nominations that were made.

“In her 21 years on the bench, Nitza Quiñones Alejandro has presided over many cases incorporating different facets of the law,” Toomey said. “In addition to her extensive experience in the courtroom, she has also remained active in her community through her work with schools and mentoring summer law interns.”

Obama nominates Quiñones with just slightly more than one month remaining for the 112th Congress, so it’s unlikely the Senate will act to confirm Quiñones before it adjourns. Obama will have to renominate her next year if he continues to want her to have a seat on the federal court.

Quiñones’s nomination brings the total number of openly gay judicial nominees made by Obama to eight. Another openly gay judicial nomination that Obama made last week — William Thomas, was named to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida — is also unlikely to see Senate action because his nomination was made so late in the year. Yet another gay nominee, Michael McShane, whom Obama named to U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, was announced in September and has yet to see Senate action.

Pamela Ki Mai Chen, whom Obama named to be a federal judge for the Eastern District of New York, is set to have a vote before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. But per the rules of the committee, Chen’s nomination made be held over for the following executive session if any member of the committee wants more time.

Other openly gay judicial nominees Obama has made are J. Paul Oetken, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; Allison Nathan, who was also confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; and Michael Fitzgerald, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Obama nominated Edmund Dumont to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, but that nomination was rescinded after no action was taken on the appointment and DuMont requested his name be withdrawn.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, commended Obama for nominating Quiñones to the bench, saying,”We applaud President Obama for continuing to nominate federal judges that are not only experienced jurists but also reflect the rich diversity of our country.”

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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