Less than two weeks after President Barack Obama nominated attorney J. Paul Oetken, an out gay attorney recommended by Senator Charles Schumer, to a seat on the Southern District of New York federal bench, the state’s senior senator announced his recommendation of an out lesbian, Alison J. Nathan, to another Southern District vacancy.
“When I heard there was no openly gay man serving in any federal court, I was shocked,” Schumer said at the annual New York City gala of the Human Rights Campaign at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel on February 5.
The senator explained that in making his judicial recommendations, which under longstanding custom are almost always accepted by the president, he was sensitive to broadening the diversity on the federal bench.
Nathan currently serves as special counsel to the solicitor general of New York State, a part of the Attorney General’s Office.
Prior to that post, Nathan served as associate White House counsel and special assistant to President Obama. She earlier taught law at New York University and Fordham, after working at the firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.
A 1994 graduate of Cornell University, she received her JD from the law school there in 2000, serving as editor-in-chief of the Law Review. She next served as law clerk to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Betty Fletcher and then to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Nathan was a senior advisor to the Obama campaign’s voter protection effort and served on its LGBT advisory committee.
Nathan and her partner, law professor Meg Satterthwaite, have twin toddler sons, Nathan Robert Satterthwaite and Oliver Satterthwaite Nathan.
The New York State attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment on Schumer’s recommendation of Nathan.
Nathan, if nominated by the president and confirmed, would become the third out lesbian federal judge. US District Judge Deborah Batts, nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1994, sits on the Southern District of New York bench in Manhattan. Emily Hewitt was appointed to the US Court of Federal Claims by Clinton in 1998, and named chief judge of that court by Obama in 2009. Oetken and Edward C. DuMont, whose nomination for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington is pending, are in contention to become the first openly gay man to preside over a federal court.
During the federal court challenge to California’s Proposition 8, it was widely reported that presiding Judge Vaughn Walker is gay, something he never confirmed. Walker, since ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, has retired from the bench.
In October, the Washington Blade reported that an earlier Schumer recommendation of an out gay attorney for the Southern District bench, Daniel Alter, was rejected because of comments he allegedly made that the White House considered controversial –– about the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the debate over retailers wishing customers “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.”
The Alter nomination fell apart despite a letter from 66 colleagues who knew him from the office of the US Attorney for the Southern District that said his was “a nomination worth fighting for.”