June 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Senate confirms first openly gay Latina to federal court
Nitza Quiñones, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Washington Blade, gay news

The Senate confirmed Nitza Quiñones by voice vote as a federal judge. (Image courtesy of the United States Senate)

The U.S. Senate confirmed on Thursday by voice vote for the first time ever an openly gay Latina to the federal judiciary.

The Senate confirmed Nitza Quiñones Alejandro, who has been a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas since 1991, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, along with another nominee, Jeffrey Schmehl.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, commended the Senate for what he said was the confirmation of another well-qualified LGBT person to the federal judiciary.

“We are very pleased to see yet another highly qualified, openly-LGBT nominee confirmed to the federal bench – particularly a woman of color who helps reflect the diversity of the American people in the judiciary,” Cole-Schwartz said.

A Puerto Rico native, Quiñones breaks a glass ceiling as the first openly LGBT Hispanic to serve on the federal bench. Additionally, she’s the seventh openly LGBT person ever to receive confirmation as a federal judge.

President Obama first nominated Quiñones for the position in November and renominated her at the start of the 113th Congress in January as part of a group of 33 nominees.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who recommended the Quiñones nomination, said in a statement he’s “pleased” the Senate confirmed her along with Schmehl “in a bipartisan fashion.”

“Nitza’s life as a lawyer, judge and civic leader make her a true American success story,” Casey said. “Her 21 years on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas have prepared her well for a seat on the federal bench, and I’m confident she’ll serve the Eastern District of Pennsylvania well.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a Tea Party Republican who spoke highly of Quiñones when she was first nominated to the bench, took to Twitter to congratulate her and Schmehl upon their confirmation.

According to a bio provided by the White House, Quiñones, before serving on state court, worked as a staff attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs and as an attorney advisor for the Department of Health and Human Services.

She 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.

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

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