Senate Confirms First Openly LGBTQ Woman To Lifetime Seat On U.S. Appeals Court

Beth Robinson's confirmation also tilts the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to a majority Democrat-appointed court.
Beth Robinson, who previously served as an associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, is now a U.S. appeals court judge.
Beth Robinson, who previously served as an associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, is now a U.S. appeals court judge.
Associated Press

President Joe Biden quietly chalked up another historic win on Monday night with the Senate’s confirmation of Beth Robinson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

Robinson, who has been an associate judge on the Vermont Supreme Court since 2011, is now the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve on any U.S. appeals court. It’s a lifetime appointment. She is 56.

The Senate confirmed Robinson 51 to 45. Every Democrat present voted for her. Just two Republicans did: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine). The full vote tally is here.

Robinson was a civil litigator in private practice from 1993 to 2010, during which time she focused on civil litigation including employment law, workers’ compensation, contract disputes and family law. She also represented LGBTQ clients in civil and civil rights cases, including leading the freedom-to-marry movement in Vermont.

“Robinson’s confirmation is particularly historic given the dearth of LGBTQ+ representation on our courts and her legacy of advocating for LGBTQ+ equality,” said Rakim Brooks, president of Alliance for Justice, a national association of more than 120 progressive organizations focused on the courts.

Robinson’s confirmation also shifts the balance of that court to a majority Democrat-appointed panel of judges, a detail that progressive judicial advocates hailed as a sign that Biden is already making real progress in reshaping the nation’s federal courts. The Senate has now confirmed a total of three of Biden’s nominees to this court.

“President Biden’s laser-like focus on quickly nominating highly qualified, professionally diverse judges is paying off at the all-important courts of appeal level,” said Chris Kang, chief counsel for the left-leaning Demand Justice advocacy group.

With Robinson’s confirmation, along with another Monday vote to confirm Toby Heytens to a U.S. appeals court, Biden has now gotten a total of 28 appeals court and district court nominees confirmed since taking office. That’s more than any U.S. president in modern history has had confirmed by this point in their term.

For comparison’s sake, by this point in their presidencies, Donald Trump had confirmed a total of 12 appeals court and district court nominees, Barack Obama had confirmed five, George W. Bush had confirmed 12 and Bill Clinton had confirmed eight. Going back even further, George H.W. Bush had confirmed seven, Ronald Reagan had confirmed 19 and Jimmy Carter had confirmed 26.

Biden has also stuck to his vow to make his judicial nominees more diverse than those of his predecessors, both professionally and demographically. Though most of Trump’s court picks were white male corporate lawyers, Biden’s nominees so far have included public defenders, civil rights lawyers, voting rights lawyers and historic firsts with Native American and Muslim American picks.

He’s already appointed more Black women to lifetime seats on federal appeals courts than all but one previous president.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted that the Senate confirmed seven more judges last week, nearly all of whom were people of color and five of whom were women.

“Among them were more federal defenders, civil rights lawyers, election experts. They will bring sorely needed diversity to the judiciary,” he said during remarks on the Senate floor. “It’s no longer a bench ... that is simply prosecutors, partners in large law firms, but rather many, many others from walks of life with different and needed perspectives on the federal bench.”

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