March 12, 2014 at 11:07 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Lesbian judicial nominee sails through hearing
Lesbian judicial nominee Staci Yandle sailed through confirmation hearing (Screenshot via U.S. Senate).

Lesbian judicial nominee Staci Yandle sailed through confirmation hearing (Screenshot via U.S. Senate).

A lesbian judicial nominee to the federal bench sailed through her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, receiving only two questions that came from the U.S. senator who recommended her to the court.

Staci Michelle Yandle, whom President Obama nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois in January, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of a group of five judicial nominees. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) presided over the hearing.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who recommended the Yandle nomination, reflected on her work as an attorney representing “the little guy,” saying that’s what he found attractive about her career.

But Durbin asked if she agrees with a statement from U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts that if the U.S. Constitution says the little guy wins, he wins, but if the Constitution says the big guy wins, he wins.

“I think his statement is absolutely correct,” Yandle replied. “And I think that’s the proper role of a district court judge. It would be certainly what I would value as well. Based on my years of experience, as you mentioned, senator, trying cases on behalf of plaintiffs, it has given me actually a keen appreciation for the importance of impartiality and judicial integrity.”

Durbin also asked her to comment on the Tenth Amendment, which affords powers not enumerated in the U.S. Constitution to the states. Yandle said she hasn’t engaged in analysis of that amendment, but would defer to Supreme Court precedent on the matter.

According to a bio provided by the White House, Yandle has served as a solo practitioner in southern Illinois since 2007, where she focused her practice on civil litigation in federal and state court. She received a rating of “unanimously qualified” from the American Bar Association.

In her introductory remarks, Yandle recognized both her mother and sister, who were present with her in the hearing room, as well as her deceased father, Robert Yandle, whom she says continues to serve as an inspiration.

If approved by the Senate, Yandle would be the first openly lesbian black judicial nominee to receive confirmation during the Obama administration. She’d also be the first openly LGBT person to serve on the federal bench in Illinois.

But Yandle wouldn’t be the first openly lesbian black person confirmed. That distinction belongs to Deborah Batts, who was confirmed to the federal court in New York during the Clinton administration.

Introducing Yandle prior to the questioning, Durbin noted the “historic” nature of her potential confirmation to the federal bench.

“In short, Staci Yandle’s confirmation marks another important milestone in the journey toward equality of opportunity for all Americans,” Durbin 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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