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2nd Circuit Nominee Would Be the First Openly Gay Woman to Join Federal Appeals Bench

By Laura Temme, Esq. on September 23, 2021 8:34 AM

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week boasted an impressive and diverse group of judges nominated by President Biden. Ninth Circuit nominees included the circuit's first Korean-American female nominee and second Black female nominee. And to replace the late Judge Peter Hall on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Biden has tapped Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson. If confirmed, Justice Robinson will be the first openly gay woman to be a judge in the federal circuit courts of appeals.

A Leader in Marriage Equality

Born and raised in Indiana, Justice Robinson earned her bachelor's from Dartmouth College in 1986 and her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1989. After clerking for Judge David B. Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit, she spent 18 years practicing with the firm of Lagrock Sperry & Wool and served as counsel to Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin for one year. Governor Shumlin nominated her to the Vermont Supreme Court in 2011.

In the late 1990s, Robinson served as co-counsel in Baker v. Vermont, a bellwether case for marriage equality. The Vermont Supreme Court's decision led the state to become the first to enact a civil union law aimed at expanding much of the same legal rights and obligations as marriage to homosexual couples while marriage remained defined as "the union of a man and a woman." Robinson later co-founded the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, which advocated for the state to pass marriage equality legislation. Vermont enacted the country's first civil union law in 2000 and passed freedom to marry legislation in 2009 when the state legislature overrode a veto by then-Governor Jim Douglas.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who submitted Justice Robinson's name for nomination, described her to the Committee as "a tireless champion for equal rights and equal justice in the mold of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg."

Asked about how her experience as a litigator shaped her role as a judge, Justice Robinson has said:

"I think that practicing as a litigator is the right training ground for somebody to become a judge. I was motivated as an advocate because I was passionate about the clients I represented and the causes I advocated for. I am as a judge passionately committed to the rule of law and my duty to uphold it from the bench."

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