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President nominates first openly gay Hispanic federal judge

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has nominated lesbian Latina judge for a federal post, along with two others.

Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro, who earned her law degree from the University of Puerto Rico, was one of three Pennsylvanians nominated to seats on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The two other nominees, including another Latino, are Luis Felipe Restrepo and Jeffrey L. Schmehl, continuing the President’s trend for bringing gender and ethnic diversity to the federal courts to better reflect the changing populace.

Quiñones would become the first openly gay Hispanic federal judge. The professional diversity of these nominees is also significant. Quiñones and Schmehl have served as public defenders and Restrepo’s background includes work with a community legal services program.

“These nominees are emblematic of the president’s commitment to nominating qualified, diverse nominees to the federal bench,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “They are also a sign of the president’s commitment to solving the vacancy crisis in our federal courts without delay. One week after his reelection, the president nominated seven Americans to fill district and circuit court vacancies. Today, he has taken an important step in tackling the longstanding vacancy crisis in Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania’s federal courts currently have eight vacancies. Two nominees for seats considered “judicial emergencies” have been waiting over four months for confirmation votes from the Senate, despite the stated support of their home-state senators.

“It took far too long for Quiñones, Restrepo and Schmehl to be nominated for long-vacant seats on Pennsylvania’s courts, through the process set up by Senators Casey and Toomey,” Baker said. “And there are still three vacancies on the Eastern District yet to be filled. It is critical that the senators act expeditiously to send recommendations to the White House for these three remaining seats so that Pennsylvanians have access to fully functioning federal courts. It is also taking far too long for the Senate to confirm the two pending Pennsylvania Middle District nominees, because of obstruction by Senate Republicans. Sen. Toomey must stand up to his Republican leadership and urge them to allow confirmation votes on the 19 nominees who have spent as long as eight months languishing on the Senate floor.”