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Congratulations to Staci Yandle and Darrin Gayles
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 06/17/14
Last updated on: 06/17/14
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Judge Darrin Gayles.

On June 17, 2014, Staci Michelle Yandle and Darrin Gayles, two openly gay nominees to federal judgeships, were confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Yandle, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, will be the first African American to serve on her court. Gayles, who was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is the first openly gay African-American male to be confirmed as a federal judge. Yandle is only the second openly lesbian African-American woman to be confirmed in the 20 years since President Clinton nominated Deborah Batts to the Southern District of New York.

She is a graduate of the University of Illinois and holds a law degree from Vanderbilt University. After serving as an associate and a partner in large law firms, she has been a practitioner in O'Fallon, Illinois since 2007.

Gayles is a graduate of Howard University and holds a law degree from George Washington University Law School. He began his career as an Assistant State Attorney in the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office from 1993 to 1997. From 1997 to 1999, he served as an Assistant District Counsel at the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. From 1999 to 2004, he served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. From 2004 to 2011, he served as a County Judge in Miami-Dade County within the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. Since 2011, he has served as a Circuit Court Judge in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit.

As Chris Johnson reports in the Washington Blade, Yandle was confirmed by a party-line 52-44 vote. All Democrats present voted for Yandle; all Republicans present voted against her. Gayles was confirmed unanimously by a 98-0 vote.

Sharon Lettman-Hicks, CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, praised the confirmation of the two nominees as an historic occasion.

"I am thrilled that the Senate has confirmed Attorney Yandle and Judge Gayles to the federal bench," Lettman-Hicks said. "NBJC celebrates both confirmations that will inspire so many in the Black and LGBT communities. In addition, we celebrate the vast life experiences that they will take with them to the federal bench as they work to render impartial decisions. It's a significant sign of progress in our nation when two individuals are judged solely on their merits when being considered for these important lifetime appointments."

Eric Lesh of Lambda Legal also praised the confirmations as historic. "President Obama has already nominated more African-American judges and openly gay and lesbian judges than any of his predecessors," he said in a statement. "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."

With the confirmation of Gayles and Yandle, there are now ten openly gay judges appointed by President Obama.

The others include Judge Todd Hughes, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Judges J. Paul Oetken and Alison Nathan both sit on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; Judge Michael Fitzgerald serves on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California; Judge Pamela Ki Mai Chen holds a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York; Judge Michael McShane serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon; Judge Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro sits on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; and Judge Judith Levy serves on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Other openly gay federal judges include Judge Vaughn Walker, who was nominated by President Reagan to the Northern District of California; now retired, he did not come out until 2010 when he presided over the Proposition 8 trial; and Judge Deborah Batts, the first openly lesbian federal judge, who was nominated by President Clinton and serves in a "senior status" on the Southern District of New York bench.

President Obama also nominated Edward DuMont for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, but Dumont withdrew his nomination after there was no movement on it over the course of two sessions of Congress; and Judge William Thomas, who was nominated in October 2012 for the seat that Darrin Gayles will occupy. Thomas's nomination was blocked by Senator Marco Rubio.

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