The U.S. Senate confirmed on Thursday a lesbian with a history of civil rights activism to another term on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
By a largely party-line vote of 54-41, the Senate confirmed Chai Feldblum for a five-year term on the bipartisan panel, which enforces federal laws against workplace discrimination.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who are known for their support for LGBT rights, were the only Republicans to break from the GOP caucus to vote in favor of Feldblum’s confirmation.
President Obama nominated Feldblum for another term on the EEOC in May.
The Senate invoked cloture to the proceed to the nomination on Tuesday by a 57-39 vote. Under this vote, the Feldblum nomination wouldn’t have been able to proceed if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hadn’t exercised the nuclear option to lower the vote threshold necessary for proceeding to presidential appointments.
Feldblum, the first openly LGBT person to serve on the EEOC, is credited with coordinating a unanimous decision last year in the case of Macy v. Holder that interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect transgender people. The commission reasoned the existing prohibition against gender bias in the workplace applies to transgender people.
Tico Almeida, president of Freedom of Work, commended the Senate for confirming Feldblum to the EEOC, where he said she “has worked tirelessly to build bi-partisan consensus on improvements to America’s laws that give all workers a fair shot at the American Dream.”
“Feldblum deserves our praise not only for her leading role in the unanimous EEOC decision in Macy v. Holder, but also for her leadership in drafting the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan, which explicitly lists workplace protections for LGBT Americans among the commission’s national priorities,” Feldblum said.
Prior to serving on the EEOC, Feldblum was a nationally recognized gay rights attorney. She’s credited with the drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990. She also wrote the base version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which was recently passed by the Senate, but remains blocked in the House.
She’s also had experience in LGBT activism. Feldblum was the legal director for the Campaign for Military Service, a group that unsuccessfully fought in the early 1990′s against the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Feldblum is the partner of Nan Hunter, a Georgetown University law professor with experience in LGBT cases.
Her initial nomination to the EEOC faced difficulties in the Senate. One or more unidentified senators placed a secret hold on her and four other EEOC nominees. In March 2010, Obama cleared the way for her to serve by making a recess appointment. The Senate later confirmed her in December 2010.