March 7, 2013 at 10:14 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Senate panel advances two gay judicial nominees
Nitza Quiñones, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Washington Blade, gay news

Nitza Quiñones Alejandro nomination as a U.S. judge was approved by Senate panel (Image courtesy of the United States Senate)

Following a call from the White House to fill vacancies on the federal court, a Senate panel on Thursday approved two openly gay nominees to the floor en banc as part of a group of six pending appointments.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out by voice vote the nominations of Michael McShane, nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, and Nitza Quinones Alejandro, nominated for a seat U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Both nominees were named by President Obama in the previous Congress and renominated again at the start of this year.

McShane, whose nomination was recommended by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has served on the Multnomah County Circuit Court since 1997, where he handles civil, criminal and family court cases. If confirmed, he would be the first openly gay federal judge in Oregon.

Quinones, whose nomination was recommended by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), serves as a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, where she has presided since 1991 over civil and criminal matters. A Puerto Rico native, Quinones would be the first out lesbian Latina to serve as a federal judge.

The committee has advanced the nominees as the Obama administration is ramping up public pressure on the Senate to confirm judicial appointments. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney offered a three-slide presentation on vacancies remaining in the federal judiciary — noting the average wait time for an Obama judicial nominee to get a floor vote is three to four times longer than it was during the Bush administration.

“This is a problem that needs to be resolved for the sake of our judicial system, for the sake of a carrying out of justice in our country in an expedited and deliberate manner,” Carney said.

It should be noted the committee votes on Quinones and McShane were scheduled before Carney offered his remarks on Tuesday during the White House briefing.

Carney particularly emphasized the importance of confirming Caitlin Halligan, another nominee, to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. But the following day, Senate Republicans succeeded in filibustering the nomination. President Obama in a statement afterward said he was “deeply disappointed” because he believes Halligan is highly qualified for the role.

But earlier this week, the Senate confirmed by voice vote the nomination of Pamela Ki Mai Chen, a lesbian, for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. She’s the first openly gay Asian-American confirmed to the federal bench.

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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