by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Michael Fitzgerald, an openly Gay California lawyer, got overwhelming Senate approval on March 15 for his nomination as U.S. District Court Judge. He now becomes the fourth out LGBT federal judge in the country.
The 91-6 vote was a triumph for Fitzgerald, but perhaps even more so for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Federal judges are nominated by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate before they can take up their life terms on the bench.
Fitzgerald was nominated for the position on July 20, 2011, had his Judiciary Committee hearing in October 2011, and was reported by the committee to the full Senate without opposition on November 3, 2011.
The Senate did not act on his nomination because Republicans refused to agree to an up-or-down vote on it.
On March 12, Reid announced that he would no longer accept Republican obstruction of 17 of President Obama's federal court nominees. Unless Republican leaders agreed to up-or-down votes on the nominees, Reid said, he would force a floor debate and require Republican senators to actually hold the floor indefinitely if they wished to delay a vote.
On March 14, Republicans agreed to vote in the coming weeks on 14 of the 17 nominees, including Fitzgerald.
No one spoke in opposition to his nomination. 'No' votes came from the most conservative Republican Senators: Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and David Vitter (R-La.).
Republican senators labeled Fitzgerald an 'activist,' although his only controversial case was his representation of a Gay FBI agent in Buttino v. FBI (1992).
Frank Buttino was anonymously outed to his supervisor, who then pulled his security clearance, causing the bureau to fire Buttino. Buttino then filed a class action suit, with Fitzgerald representing the class. The case was settled when the FBI agreed to substantial policy changes.
In a statement, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who strongly backed the nomination, praised Fitzgerald.
'The federal bench in California will gain an extremely talented new judge as a result of today's historic vote to confirm Michael Fitzgerald,' she said. 'His sharp intellect and broad legal experience will make him a tremendous asset to the people of the Central District.'
Boxer did not praise the Senate's confirmation process, however.
'While I am pleased by today's overwhelming vote, 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,' she added.
Both of Washington's Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, voted for Fitzgerald.
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