July 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Senate panel advances gay nominee for appeals court
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A Senate panel approved a judicial nominee who’d be the first openly gay person to sit on a federal appeals court. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

A Senate panel took a step on Thursday toward breaking an additional barrier for LGBT people by approving a judicial nominee who would become the first openly gay person to serve on a federal appeals court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee by voice vote reported out the nomination of Todd M. Hughes, whom President Obama named in February to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, as part of a group of five judicial nominees.

Upon confirmation, Hughes would make history by becoming the first openly gay person to serve on a federal appeals court. Previous openly gay judicial nominees the Senate has confirmed were for positions on district courts.

Since 2007, Hughes has served as deputy director for the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Civil Division at the Justice Department. His practice has been related to federal personnel law, veterans’ benefits, international trade, government contracts and jurisdictional issues regarding the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

During his confirmation hearing on June 19, Hughes identified “fidelity to the law” as a quality a federal judge should have under questioning from Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

“The first and foremost quality a federal judge should have is fidelity to the law,” Hughes said. “He should be fair to all the litigants. He should be thoroughly prepared, understand the facts of the case, the law and come to a reasoned and equitable decision.

Although Hughes would become the first openly gay person to serve on a federal appeals court, he’s not the first openly gay nominee for such a position. In 2010, Obama nominated Edmund DuMont to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, but that nomination was rescinded after no action was taken on the appointment for 18 months and DuMont requested his name be withdrawn.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, commended the Senate panel for advancing the Hughes nomination.

“We are thrilled the committee has approved the nomination of Todd Hughes and urge the full Senate to confirm this highly qualified nominee as soon as possible,” Cole-Schwartz 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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