WASHINGTON -- The Senate made history on Tuesday by voting to confirm Todd Hughes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Hughes, who was confirmed 98 to 0, is the nation's first openly gay circuit judge. He has been a deputy director in the civil division of the Justice Department since 2007.
Unlike some of President Barack Obama's other key judicial nominees -- namely those for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals -- Hughes cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote. With Hughes now confirmed, that leaves 13 judicial nominees awaiting Senate votes: two D.C. Circuit Court nominees and 11 district court nominees.
Many of those nominees will likely sail to confirmation after their votes in the Senate. But Republicans are holding up the votes, allowing them proceed at a pace of about one to two nominees per week, said a senior Democratic aide.
Before Obama came into office, the Senate used to clear the calendar of non-controversial judicial nominees at the end of every work period, said the aide, but Republicans "won't do that anymore."
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), pushed back on the idea that Republicans are holding up anyone. Four of the 13 nominees were only reported out of committee last week, he said, and the others were reported out within two weeks of the August recess.
"So in Senate time, [they] have only been on the calendar about a month, which is not long at all," Stewart said. "Plus, we’ve been moving judges since we came back in. None have been on the calendar since before a huge group came out of committee on July 18. There are no long-wait nominees at all."
The Obama administration regularly boasts of the diversity of its candidates in its push to get them confirmed. Of the 13 pending nominees, nine are women and four are African-American. And, like Hughes, some of them would make history if confirmed. Debra Brown would be the first African-American district judge in the Northern District of Mississippi, and Landya McCafferty, Susan Watters and Elizabeth Wolford would be the first female district judges in their districts (New Hampshire, Montana and the Western District of New York, respectively).
"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," White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler wrote in a blog post shortly after the vote.
"The judiciary will better reflect the nation it serves, instilling even greater public confidence in our justice system," Ruemmler wrote. "We look forward to the “seconds” and “thirds” who will come after Todd Hughes and his fellow “firsts” currently serving on our courts.