The San Francisco federal bench just got its first openly gay judge, as odd as that is to say in 2023. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Biden's nomination of SF labor lawyer P. Casey Pitts to be a judge in U.S District Court.
Pitts, 42, will fill a vacancy on the local federal bench that was created when Biden elevated U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to the Ninth Circuit court in 2021. As the Chronicle reported at the time, Biden's nomination of Pitts came last September, but the Senate vote is only just happening now, after the nomination cleared the Judiciary Committee — and after Dianne Feinstein returned with her all-important Democratic vote.
As the Chronicle notes today, Pitts is not the first known gay judge on the SF federal bench. That was Judge Vaughn Walker, the famed Prop 8-squashing judge who retired in 2011, and who didn't technically come out as gay until after he retired.
In a statement after the Senate's vote, attorney Lena Zwarensteyn of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said of Pitts, "He brings significant experience protecting the rights of working people and the freedom to vote — a civil rights background that is unfortunately underrepresented in our judiciary."
And California Senator Alex Padilla said that Pitts's "life experience, his credentials, and his record of fighting for the American people will no doubt make him a phenomenal jurist, and I’m proud to see him confirmed."
Pitts has been with the SF firm Altshuler Berzon since 2009, after graduating from Yale Law School.
He has worked on cases including one relating to a fired transgender employee who subsequently got their job back, and per the Chronicle, "another case that required a Southern California community to change from at-large to district elections to protect minority rights."
Pitts's nomination to the federal bench is part of a slate of nominees from the Biden Administration that are the most diverse in history — with two-thirds being women, and two-thirds being people of color. As PBS reported in December, Biden has put 11 Black women on the country's appellate courts, effectively doubling the number of Black female judges on the nation's second-highest courts.
PBS also noted that diversity in professional background is important among federal judges, with labor law being one important and underrepresented area.
Pitts's nomination was apparently stalled last fall because of his support of labor unions, and the fact that Republicans have seized on unions as prime enemies in recent months. But Biden renominated him in January, and the vote on Wednesday was 53 to 46, with two Republicans — Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham — joining Democrats.
Photo via Altshuler Berzon