News Law and Policy

Senate Confirms First Openly Gay Judge for Federal Circuit

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Unlike many of President Obama's other federal court nominees, Todd Hughes' nomination has proceeded smoothly.

On Tuesday, the federal judiciary crossed another important milestone as the Senate voted unanimously to confirm Todd Hughes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Hughes’ confirmation makes him the first openly gay circuit judge.

Unlike other federal appeals courts, the Federal Circuit is a specialty court that focuses on a more limited caseload, including patent and trademark claims, federal personnel benefits claims, and veterans’ benefits. Hughes had served as deputy director in the civil division of the Department of Justice since 2007, where much of his practice focused on these areas.

Unlike many of President Obama’s other federal court nominees, Hughes’ nomination has proceeded smoothly. The president nominated Hughes in February, and after a hearing in mid-June, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination, sending it to the Senate in July. “I am proud that today the Senate is finally taking this critical step to break down another barrier and increase diversity on our Federal bench,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.

Hughes’ confirmation was celebrated by the Alliance for Justice, which tracks judicial nominations. “Today’s vote to confirm Todd Hughes marks another milestone in the long journey toward justice and equality,” Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron said in a statement. “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.”

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Hughes’ confirmation marks slow progress on President Obama’s judicial nominations, who have languished in the Senate throughout his presidency. To date, at least 11 nominations are still waiting for Senate confirmation, including Georgetown Law professor Nina Pillard.

Hughes may have enjoyed unanimous support in the Senate, but not all of President Obama’s other “out” nominees have fared as well. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) publicly withdrew his support for Florida district court nominee Judge William Thomas, an openly gay Black judge from Miami, after previously agreeing to advance his nomination. The switch is reportedly due to “serious concerns” about Judge Thomas’ fitness for the federal judiciary. The move effectively blocks Thomas’ nomination.

According to the New York Times, Rubio’s concerns are rooted in two criminal cases assigned to Thomas, despite the fact that Thomas enjoys wide support among members of the bar, including letters of support from prosecutors and an appellate judge involved in one of the criminal cases cited by Rubio in blocking the nomination.

If confirmed, Judge Thomas would have become the first openly gay Black man to serve on the federal bench.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Clarifies Position on Federal Funding for Abortion, Is ‘for the Hyde Amendment’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, clarified during an interview with CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

During Kaine’s appearance on New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asked the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee whether he was “for or against” the ban on funding for abortion. Kaine replied that he had “been for the Hyde Amendment,” adding “I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told CNN on Sunday that Kaine had “said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment.” Another Clinton spokesperson later clarified to the network that Kaine’s commitment had been “made privately.”

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

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“We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment,” reads the platform.

Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he was not aware that the party had put language outlining support for repealing Hyde into the platform, noting that he had “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports Hyde’s repeal, calling the abortion care restriction “hard to justify.”

Abortion rights advocates say that Hyde presents a major obstacle to abortion access in the United States.

“The Hyde amendment is a violent piece of legislation that keeps anyone on Medicaid from accessing healthcare and denies them full control over their lives,” Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement. “Whether or not folks believe in the broken U.S. political system, we are all impacted by the policies that it produces. … Abortion access issues go well beyond insurance and the ability to pay, but removing the Hyde Amendment will take us light years closer to where we need to be.”

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”