February 7, 2013 at 1:30 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Obama names gay attorney to fed’l appeals court
The White House

The White House announced that President Obama named Todd Hughes for a seat on a federal appeals court (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama on Thursday nominated for a seat on the federal judiciary a gay Justice Department attorney who, upon confirmation, would make history.

Todd Hughes, who has served since 2007 as deputy director for the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Civil Division at the Justice Department, was named for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. If confirmed, he’ll be the first openly gay person to a seat on a federal appellate court.

The White House announced the Hughes nomination in the same statement in which Obama also named Raymond Chen for another seat on the appeals court.

“Raymond T. Chen and Todd M. Hughes have displayed exceptional dedication to public service throughout their careers,” Obama said in a statement. “I am honored to nominate them today to serve the American people on the United States Court of Appeals. I am confident that they will be judicious and esteemed additions to the Federal Circuit.”

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, noted a glass ceiling for LGBT people would be broken if Hughes is confirmed to the seat.

“If confirmed, Todd Hughes would become the first openly gay federal appeals court judge in U.S. history,” Wolfe said. “His nomination is a testament to the expanding opportunities for openly LGBT Americans who want to serve their country, and to the president’s respect for the depth of talent and experience within the LGBT community. We look forward to his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.”

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Once confirmed, Todd Hughes becomes the first openly-gay federal appeals court judge in America,” Sainz said. “HRC has long advocated for a judicial appointment for Mr. Hughes, and we urge the Senate to approve this historic nomination soon.”

According to a bio provided by the White House, Hughes has also served as an adjunct lecturer in law with the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and as an instructor for Duke University’s writing program. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1989 and completed a joint degree program with Duke University, earning both his law degree with honors and his master’s degree in English in 1992.

In 1994, he joined the Commercial Litigation Branch as a trial attorney and was later appointed to the role of deputy director. 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.

Hughes joins four other openly gay judicial nominees whom Obama renominated for seats on the federal bench at the start of the 113th Congress. They are Pamela Ki Mai Chen, a lesbian attorney named to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York; Michael McShane, a gay judge named to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon;  Nitza Quiñones Alejandro, a lesbian judge named to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; and William Thomas, a Florida judge named to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. However, the Senate has yet to take action on these nominees.

It’s the not the first time Obama has nominated an openly gay person for a seat on a federal court. 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.

NOTE: This posting has been updated to include a statement from Fred Sainz. An initial version of this posting also incorrectly referred to Hughes as a U.S. attorney. The Blade regrets the error.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • It’s about fuckin’ time! I do not agree with homosexuality, but let’s face, a gay person has as much right to work, to eat, to love and be loved, and to be happy as anybody else. And let’s face it, based on all the bullshit that LBGT people have had to tolerate from us “straight” people (many of whom are not straight in the mind), they tend to me more understanding of the differences of others.

    Congratulations Todd Hughes! You’ll get nothing but love and pride from me.

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