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Biden nominates 2nd lesbian to federal appeals court bench

by Lisa Keen

Federal Judge Alison Nathan has been nominated to a federal appeals court. Photo: Courtesy NYU.edu
Federal Judge Alison Nathan has been nominated to a federal appeals court. Photo: Courtesy NYU.edu  

President Joe Biden on November 17 nominated a second lesbian to serve on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, the U.S. Senate on November 1 confirmed Biden's first lesbian nominee to the 2nd Circuit: Beth Robinson of Vermont. The 2nd Circuit includes Vermont, New York, and Connecticut. That confirmation marked the first time an openly LGBTQ woman had been appointed to a federal appeals circuit seat.

This week, the Biden administration announced the president is nominating current U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan, who has served 10 years in the Southern District of New York, to the 2nd Circuit.

Nathan was an associate counsel to former President Barack Obama and then special counsel to New York State Solicitor General Barbara Underwood. Obama named her, in 2011, to the federal district court in Manhattan. The Senate vote in 2011 was 48-44, and several of the Republicans who opposed her then are still prominent in the Senate. Among them is Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who said Nathan was too inexperienced (she was 39 at the time).

A native of Philadelphia, Nathan attended Cornell University for both her bachelor's and law degrees. She clerked at the 9th Circuit and for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. She entered private practice with the large corporate law firm of Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr. In 2004, she served on the campaign of then-Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

According to the New York Times, Nathan has been presiding over the trial of sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein's associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, on sex trafficking charges. Reuters reported that the trial requires Nathan to question more than 200 prospective jurors. Epstein died by apparent suicide in 2019 while in federal custody on sex trafficking charges.

Nathan is married to a New York University Law School professor, Meg Satterthwaite, and they have two children. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-New York) recommended Nathan for the nomination.

Robinson, who is expected to be sworn in soon, was confirmed by the Senate on a 51-45 vote. Although there was no floor debate, Republican senators posed a long series of challenging questions to the nominee through behind-the-scenes questionnaires.

Among other things, they asked Robinson, "How many biological sexes do you believe there are?" and "Do you think it is appropriate for an individual to threaten a six-year-old girl with a box cutter by telling her that he would kill her in her sleep?" In Robinson's televised confirmation hearing, Republicans claimed the nominee exhibited "marked hostility toward religious liberty," although they offered no evidence of such hostility.

It is not known when the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up Nathan's nomination.

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