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Photo: Glenn Russell
Before being named a federal judge, Beth Robinson sat on the Vermont Supreme Court for 10 years. Photo: Glenn Russell

Beth Robinson becomes the U.S.’s first openly LGBTQ federal circuit court judge

The longtime lawyer that advanced LGBTQ+ issues in Vermont served on the state’s Supreme Court since 2011.

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On Monday, Nov. 1, the Senate voted to confirm Beth Robinson to the 2nd U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, making her the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal circuit court, according to the White House.

Robinson, who has served as an associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court since 2011, was confirmed in a 51-45 vote. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were the only Republicans to vote in favor of her confirmation. 

Robinson was nominated by President Joe Biden in August during his sixth round of recommendations. In a news release at the time of her nomination, the White House said that Biden’s nominations are fulfilling a larger effort to diversify the nation’s courts both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds. 

Robinson graduated from University of Chicago Law School, and has experience practicing family law, personal injury, employment law and workers’ compensation. She has also worked pro bono on issues related to advancing LGBTQ rights in Vermont. 

The LGBTQ legal advocacy group, Lambda Legal, applauded Robinson’s confirmation on Monday. 

“Judge Robinson’s extraordinary professional expertise makes her well qualified for this important position and her confirmation as the first openly lesbian judge to a federal appeals court is cause for celebration for our community,” Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer for Lamda Legal, said in a statement. 

Vermont senators voiced their support for Robinson on Monday.

"Her record as a Vermont Supreme Court Justice clearly demonstrates her fairness, impartiality, and loyalty to rule of law, above all else," Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a tweet ahead of her confirmation.

Following her confirmation, Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “I know you will make Vermont proud and will be an excellent addition to the federal bench.” 

Robinson has been part of landmark cases that led to Vermont becoming the first state to authorize civil unions in 1999, and was involved in the 2009 legislative decision to allow same-sex marriage. 

This is a legacy that her supporters view as evidence of her dedication to human rights, but her critics have used it to question her ability to be an impartial judge. 

Several republicans criticized Robinson throughout her confirmation process. During a hearing in September, Sen. Ted Cruz said that her past work “demonstrates a marked hostility towards religious liberty” and doubted her ability to stay impartial on the bench. 

In response to the Republican senator’s questioning, Robinson maintained that she understands the clear differences between being an advocate, a litigator and an impartial judge. 

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy sung Robinson’s praises in a statement, calling her a relentless champion for equal rights and justice and comparing her to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

“Beth’s successes provided a blueprint for advocates in other states to achieve more equality across the country. As a result, Beth has widely — and rightfully — been hailed as one of our nation’s most important pioneers in the cause of LGBTQ rights,” Leahy said. 

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