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L.A. attorney confirmed as state's first openly gay federal judge

March 15, 2012 |  4:06 pm

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted 91 to 6 to confirm Los Angeles attorney Michael W. Fitzgerald to a seat on the federal court for Central California, making him the first openly gay federal jurist in the state and one of a few in the nation.

Fitzgerald, 52, was nominated by President Obama eight months ago, but his confirmation was held up by partisan wrangling in the upper house that also has blocked appointments to 20 other vacant federal judgeships.

The gay community hailed Fitzgerald's confirmation as a milestone for sexual orientation diversity in the federal courts.

"It's essential to have sexual orientation and gender identity diversity on the bench for the same reason it's important to have racial and gender diversity in the judiciary; the life experience of judges provides valuable insight and influences their interpretation of the law," said Lorri L. Jean, head of the  L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. "As Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor once said, 'Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see.' "

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who recommended Fitzgerald for the U.S. District Court vacancy, also praised the choice of "an extremely talented new judge" with a sharp intellect and broad legal experience.

Boxer added, though, that "it is shameful that he had to wait so long for a vote and I hope that Republicans will stop blocking the confirmation of highly qualified nominees.”

A deal cut Wednesday between Senate Republican and Democratic leaders calls for votes on 14 stalled federal judge nominations over the next two months, including Obama's choice of U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Nguyen to move up to a seat on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The agreement, however, didn't cover two other 9th Circuit nominees -- Los Angeles lawyer Paul J. Watford and Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Hurwitz. Those votes are unlikely to be held before the summer recess.

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-- Carol J. Williams

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