Political Notebook: Biden nominates out lawyer to northern CA judgeship

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday September 2, 2022
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U.S. federal judge nominee P. Casey Pitts
U.S. federal judge nominee P. Casey Pitts

Should San Francisco attorney P. Casey Pitts be confirmed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California then he would be the only LGBT Article III judge actively serving on the court, according to the White House.

President Joe Biden announced September 2 that he was nominating the Yale Law School graduate to the local federal bench. An Article III judge means the person was nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

That is the second out judicial pick for a California federal bench that Biden has made in recent months. In late July, he nominated gay Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Daniel Calabretta to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted at the time, Calabretta would be the first openly LGBTQ judge to serve on the federal district court if confirmed. California's two Democratic U.S. senators — Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein — are backing his appointment and issued a statement Friday calling for Pitts to also be confirmed by their Senate colleagues.

"Pitts' professional background and his effective work on behalf of laborers, consumers, and beyond will serve Californians well on the bench," noted the senators in their joint release. "Our courts are also strengthened by his diversity of life experience, as the only openly LGBTQ+ Article III judge actively serving in the Northern District if confirmed. We urge our colleagues in the Senate to support his swift confirmation."

Pitts, in his early 40s and originally from Fargo, North Dakota, did not immediately respond to the B.A.R.'s interview requests Friday.

He is a partner at Altshuler Berzon LLP in San Francisco where he has worked since 2009. The announcement from the White House did not specify how Pitts identifies under the LGBT acronym, but Padilla's office confirmed to the B.A.R. that he is a gay man.

According to his bio on the law firm's website, he is a member of the amicus and judiciary committees of BALIF, the San Francisco Bay Area's LGBTQ bar association also known as Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom. San Francisco magazine had named Pitts a "Rising Star" in its Northern California Super Lawyers listings each year between 2016 and 2019.

From 2008 to 2009 Pitts served as a law clerk for now-retired Judge Stephen Reinhardt on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Altshuler Berzon hired him as an associate at the firm in 2009, and he became a partner in 2017.

He has worked on, and written about, various LGBTQ legal cases over the years. In 2006, writing for the Yale Law Journal, Pitts explained why the military's homophobic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy barring LGBTQ servicemembers from being out was a deterrent for many young people to enlist in the armed forces.

"When defenders of (DADT) focus on the uniqueness of the military's needs, and when judges defer to congressional judgments to the same effect, the military appears out of step with the world that most young people inhabit. The military's exemption from the norms that govern the civilian world hampers efforts to recruit the best and brightest into service," wrote Pitts, who in law school served as a senior editor for the Yale Law Journal, as managing editor of the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, and co-directed the Rebellious Lawyering Conference.

In 2015, Pitts was part of the legal team that filed a federal employment discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a transgender manager trainee at the Mississippi-based finance company Tower Loan. Tristan Broussard, 21 years old at the time, was fired after he refused to agree to dress and be treated as female, according to the lawsuit.

"Federal law protects transgender workers who deserve the same certainty as others that their jobs and livelihood depend, not on irrelevant characteristics like their gender, but on their skills, effort, and performance," stated Pitts in a news release about the case.

It was filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Altshuler Berzon LLP, and Delaney & Robb Attorneys at Law LLC. Broussard was awarded $53,000 in damages by an arbitrator, while Tower Loan in 2017 agreed to implement gender identity protections as part of settlement in a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after it intervened in Broussard v. First Tower Loan, LLC.

According to his law firm bio, Pitts has worked on cases involving workers, labor unions, consumers, public entities, and public interest organizations in complex impact and appellate litigation. It notes he has briefed both the United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court in numerous lawsuits, and has argued cases in the federal and state trial and appellate courts.

He also represents local unions in collective bargaining, including in negotiations and contract enforcement. Pitts serves an appellate representative to the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference, according to his bio, and volunteers with the Workers' Rights Clinic of Legal Aid at Work.

LGBTQ legal advocates have been calling on Biden to name more out judges to the federal bench. A report issued in February by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund noted, as of its publication, there were only 14 active federal judges who openly identify as gay or lesbian, which is a mere 1.6% of the 870 Article III judgeships in the federal judiciary.

In April, Biden nominated Ana Reyes, a lesbian who is an attorney at the D.C.-based law firm Williams & Connolly LLP, for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and her confirmation is now pending before the Senate. She would be the first Hispanic woman and the first out lesbian who would ever serve on the court, noted the Washington Blade LGBTQ newspaper.

This year also saw the confirmation of Biden nominee Alison Nathan, a lesbian former federal district court judge in New York, to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Last November, the Senate 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, as the Bay Area Reporter had noted.

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, September 12.

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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