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Senate confirms two openly gay, black judges to federal bench

On Tuesday, lawmakers confirmed two openly gay black judicial nominees, bringing the total number of openly gay judges past the double-digit mark.
The U.S. Capitol is shown on the morning of June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.
The U.S. Capitol is shown on the morning of June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Slowly but surely, the federal judiciary is becoming more diverse.

On Tuesday, lawmakers confirmed two openly gay, black judicial nominees, bringing the total number of openly gay federal judges past the double-digit mark. There are currently 10 openly gay judges sitting on the federal bench, all of whom were appointed by President Obama.

By a unanimous vote of 97-0, the U.S. Senate made Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Darrin P. Gayles the first openly gay, black male to serve as a federal jurist. Earlier in the day, Judge Staci Michelle Yandle was confirmed by a party-line 52-44 vote to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. She joins Judge Deborah Batts as the federal bench’s second black lesbian.

“We are pleased that President Obama and the Senate majority continue to broaden the bench, nominating and confirming highly-qualified judges who reflect the full diversity of the American people both in their personal backgrounds and their professional lives,” said Alliance for Justice (AFJ) President Nan Aron in a statement.

AFJ recently released dual reports praising the Senate’s efforts to keep partisan obstructionism at bay and fill an unprecedented number of judicial vacancies. Since November, when Democrats made it so that a simple majority vote could break filibusters on district and circuit court nominations, the Senate has confirmed more than 50 of Obama’s judicial choices, according to the Associated Press.

Still, civil rights advocates believe there’s more to be done.

“Today, it is more important than ever that our courts reflect the growing diversity of our country, but we have a long way to go,” said Eric Lesh, fair courts project manager at Lambda Legal, in a statement. “There are nearly 900 federal judges in the U.S., and most are white men. Federal courts are charged with providing everyone with equal access to justice, and yet justice has not always been a reality for some. A diverse judiciary serves not only to improve the quality of justice, but to boost public confidence in the courts.”

Correction: A previous version of this story reported that there were 11 openly gay judges on the federal bench. Because of an editing error, this story originally reported that the Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to confirm two openly gay, black judges. One of the votes was unanimous; the other was along party lines.