Senate Confirms J. Paul Oetken, First Openly Gay Man to Serve on Federal Bench

The Senate voted 80-13 late this afternoon to confirm attorney J. Paul Oetken, a former Clinton administration lawyer recommended to Obama by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), as a U.S. District judge for the Southern District of New York.

Said Schumer on the Senate floor

“As the first openly gay man to be confirmed as a federal judge and to serve on the federal bench, he will be a symbol of how much we have achieved as a country in just the last few decades. And importantly, he will give hope to many talented young lawyers who, until now, thought their paths might be limited because of their sexual orientation. When Paul becomes Judge Oetken, he will be living proof to all those young lawyers that it really does get better.”

OetkenOetken is the first openly gay man to be confirmed to the federal judiciary.

Oetken, senior vice president and associate general counsel of Cablevision, was also a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun and worked in the Justice Department.

MetroWeekly notes, of the vote: "Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) were the only no votes."

Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade writes:

Oetken is first openly gay male to be confirmed to the federal bench, but not the first openly LGBT person. U.S. District Judge Deborah Batts, an out lesbian who currently sits on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, is considered the first openly LGBT person to sit on a federal court. She was appointed during the Clinton Administration.


  1. yuninv says

    Congratulating someone for their success is ridiculous now? Maybe you would have preferred I phrased it like this:

    Congratulations to the Gay J. Paul Oetken, who just happens to be a judge.

    That better?

  2. J.P. says

    As someone who follows the Senate, I am pretty surprised by some of the no votes and some of the yes votes. There are several Senators that are more conservative and more religious than the ones listed. Does this mean that Chambliss and Colburn voted yes? I’m also surprised Hutchison and Hatch voted no.

  3. GregV says

    Would it be accurate to say that there have already been several gay judges serving on the Federal Bench, and that the difference this time is that Oetken is both male and “out” prior to being confirmed?

  4. NY2.0 says

    It’s quite suprising the amount of Republican votes he got, so I guess I’ll bite my tongue on this occasion. How old is he? Maybe he has a shot at going all the way to the supreme court.

  5. Bryan says

    I find it interesting and curious that Sens. James Mountain Inhofe (who was elected and re-elected by running singularly-unique, bigoted TV ads targeting the lgbt community to induce fear and loathing in Oklahoma), DC-Madam favorite client David Bruce Vitter (who compared same-sex marriage to the “crossroads of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita”)were not recorded in the negative.

  6. flwrPWR says

    Another historical LGBT first; like the wonderful Sharon Lubinski, US Marshall for the District of MN. Whether you like the law or lawyers, this is important.

  7. gayalltheway says

    I was expecting this to be World War 3.

    Glad that it went smoothly and congrats.

  8. VEERS says

    @JP: Hatch is in real trouble out in Utah. He’s likely to face a primary challenge and according to the polls a majority of the voters want him gone. Consequently, Hatch has gone hard to the right in the past few months.

    As for Inhofe, Chambliss, etc. I have no idea how they voted. Only 93 senators cast a vote, meaning that 7 are missing. I have no clue which seven they were but all or some might have been GOP.

  9. VEERS says

    EDIT: I just checked. The following senators are the ones who didn’t vote: Hagan (D-NC), Paul (R-KY), Inhofe (R-OK), Toomey (R-PA), Mukowski (R-AK), Rubio (R-FL), and Vitter (R-LA).

  10. Contrarian says

    To the troll who called lawyers a despicable name: Abe Lincoln; John Adams; Alexander Hamilton; John Marshall; John Jay; Clarence Darrow; numerous heroes of the civil rights era, including Thurgood Marshall, and the counsel fighting for repeal of DOMA and DADT. Get a life.