Updated at 10:00 p.m.
Todd Hughes, a career U.S. Department of Justice staff attorney, was confirmed today as the first openly gay federal appellate court judge.
The Senate voted 98-0 to confirm Hughes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the third President Barack Obama nominee placed on the court this year. The bipartisan support came during a pause in the partisan Senate floor argument about averting a government shutdown.
Hughes, who spent the last six years as deputy director of the Justice Department's commercial litigation branch of the civil division, was uncontroversial from the start. President Barack Obama nominated him for a slot on the Federal Circuit in February, and the 19-year veteran of the Justice Department had an easy 10-minute confirmation hearing in June.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) spoke about Hughes on the Senate floor today. Leahy called Hughes' confirmation a "critical step to break down another barrier and increase diversity on our federal bench." Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) previously said at Hughes' confirmation hearing that the confirmation "would represent another important milestone in the journey toward equality in America."
White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler wrote a blog post about the confirmation touting Obama's choices for the federal bench. "Hughes's historic confirmation is yet another 'first' among President Obama’s federal judges," Ruemmler wrote. "Many of the President's circuit judges have broken new diversity barriers–including three Hispanic, two Asian American, and one African American-who are 'firsts' in their respective courts."
Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron echoed that sentiment in a statement today. "Alliance for Justice long has fought for a federal judiciary that reflects the full diversity of America and a confirmation process that evaluates candidates based on their legal expertise, not how they look or who they love," Aron said.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said Hughes is "a remarkably qualified jurist" whose commitment to his country made history. "As an openly gay man takes to the federal appellate court bench for the very first time, barriers to achievement for the next generation of LGBT young people are crumbling every day," Griffin said.
An earlier Obama pick for the court, Edward DuMont, a top appellate lawyer at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, would have been the first openly gay federal appeals court judge. But he withdrew from consideration after his nomination languished in the Senate for 16 months.
Hughes has argued 45 appeals before the Federal Circuit, and said at his confirmation hearing that he is familiar with much of the court's jurisprudence. But Hughes said he would have to work hard to get up to speed on the intellectual property cases that regularly come to the Federal Circuit from district courts across the country.
Obama has now placed six judges on the 12-judge Federal Circuit, which hears a range of cases from patent and trademark disputes and international trade matters to veteran claims and federal personnel grievances. Three nominees have been confirmed to the court this year.
The Senate previously confirmed five nominees to the court: former U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley; Jimmie Reyna of Williams Mullen; former U.S. Court of International Trade Judge Even Wallach; Richard Taranto, former name partner at Farr & Taranto in Washington; Raymond Chen, a lawyer at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, to the Federal Circuit.
This post was updated to correctly reflect that Hughes was mentioned during a floor speech Tuesday.