Harkin, Grassley vote yes as Senate confirms first openly gay federal judge

The U.S. Senate confirmed J. Paul Oetken as a District Court just for the Southern District of New York today, making Oetken the first openly gay person confirmed for a federal judgeship. The Senate vote was 80 to 13 (roll call), with Republicans casting all of the no votes. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley both voted yes on Oetken’s nomination. Throughout his career, Grassley has usually voted to confirm judges nominated by presidents from either party. However, Grassley voted against confirming both of President Barack Obama’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. More recently, Grassley helped filibuster Goodwin Liu’s nomination for the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Oetken was valedictorian at Regis High School in Cedar Rapids before graduating from the University of Iowa in 1988 and from Yale Law School in 1991. Here is more background on his career in law and business:

Oetken is currently the senior vice president and associate general counsel of Cablevision, a cable television company primarily serving customers on the eastern seaboard. He has a long history of federal service, previously serving as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun and attorney-advisor in the United States Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel. Oetken was recommended to replace Judge Denny Chin on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by New York Senator Charles E. Schumer. […]

Schumer called Oetken a “strong advocate for the LGBT community” in his statement, citing Oetken’s support of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Project as well as the amicus brief he co-authored in the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the sodomy law in Texas.

“The Texas Homosexual Conduct Law violates principles that are basic to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” stated the introduction to the amicus brief, which Oetken wrote with Chai R. Feldblum, a commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “[A]nimosity toward a group of people is not a legitimate purpose for governmental discrimination against such a group.”

Speaking on the Senate floor today, Schumer said Oetken

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.

Schumer also hailed Oetken’s “moderation,” which (along with his work for a major media company) may explain why Oetken won support from so many Senate Republicans.

Perhaps some Bleeding Heartland readers remember Oetken from his time in Cedar Rapids or Iowa City. Regis alums must be proud.

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