March 3, 2015 at 12:18 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Gay attorney named head of DOJ civil division
Ben Mizer, United States Department of Justice, gay news, Washington Blade

Ben Mizer is interim head of DOJ’s civil division. (Photo public domain)

An openly gay attorney will head the division of the U.S. Justice Department charged with representing the United States in civil and criminal matters, the U.S. Justice Department announced Monday.

Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder named Benjamin Mizer as principal deputy assistant attorney general and acting assistant attorney general for the civil division. According to the Justice Department, Mizer started in his new role Monday.

“Ben Mizer’s unassailable integrity, sound judgment and steadfast commitment to the mission of this department are just a few of the reasons he’s been chosen to serve as the new principal deputy assistant attorney general and acting assistant attorney general for the civil division – a critical and demanding post, and one in which he will undoubtedly thrive,” Holder said.

Mizer, 38 and former solicitor general for Ohio, is one of more than a dozen openly gay lawyers Holder and the Obama administration have appointed to senior positions at the Department of Justice, according to Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. He’s not the first openly gay person to head the civil division, Stuart Delery, who lead the administration’s effort in litigation against the Defense of Marriage Act, also occupied that role.

“I am indebted to Stuart Delery and Joyce Branda for their recent stewardship of the civil division,” Mizer said. “Both are exceptional public servants and even better people, and I am honored to be joining a division that is stronger than ever because of their leadership.”

Prior to his new role, Mizer served as a senior adviser to Holder on matters related to constitutional law, national security, civil rights, civil litigation, anti-trust law and the Supreme Court. Mizer received his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School and his undergraduate degree from the College of Wooster.

Mizer is now the second most senior openly gay official at the Justice Department. Delery, who’s current serving as acting associate attorney general, is the highest-ranking out official in the department.

“Ben’s work here in Washington and as solicitor general for the state of Ohio has put him in some of the most challenging and demanding positions a lawyer can encounter,” Holder said. “But in every instance, Ben has repeatedly demonstrated that he is both a gifted lawyer and a capable leader. I am confident that his stewardship of the Civil Division will build on the exceptional record he has already established – and reflect the high ideals that have animated him from the very beginning of his career.”

Holder is expected to remain head of the Justice Department for only a brief period longer. Late last year, he announced he would step down from his role as attorney general. Obama’s nominee to replace him is Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination last week, but the timing for the full Senate vote on confirmation remains in question.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, praised Mizer upon news he would head the civil division of the Justice Department.

“Mizer is an incredible public servant whose strong record and experience make him an exceptionally qualified individual to fill this important role within the Department of Justice,” Warbelow said. “As an openly gay man, his interim appointment is especially significant because the division works to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, including LGBT people. We have no doubt he will excel in this role pursuing justice for all Americans.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Mizer was named head of the civil rights division. The Blade regrets the error.

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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