Judiciary Committee considering gay nominee to federal court

Michael W. Fitzgerald

Republican senator labels Fitzgerald as an activist over his involvement in case involving FBI’s previous ban on gay agents

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

A fourth openly gay nominee to the federal district court bench — one who has been fairly heavily involved in both gay and non-gay legal and political issues and who spent “hundreds of hours” doing pro bono work that led to the elimination of a gay ban on FBI agents — has gone before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

The nominee’s gay-related history prompted the only Republican in attendance on his confirmation hearing to label the nominee an “activist.”
President Obama nominated Michael W. Fitzgerald in July to sit on the U.S. District Court for Central California. The office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who recommended him for the position, sent out a press release saying if he is confirmed by the Senate, “Fitzgerald would make history by becoming the first openly gay federal judge confirmed to serve in California.”

Fitzgerald, 52, was one of five nominees considered during the hearing Tuesday, Oct. 4. Boxer introduced him to the committee, noting that he had served as a federal prosecutor on the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, “where he prosecuted international drug rings and money-laundering — including what was at that time the second largest cocaine seizure in California history.”

The American Bar Association, noted Boxer, had given Fitzgerald a rating of “well qualified” on a unanimous vote.
Acting Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had also submitted a “blue slip” in favor of Fitzgerald’s appointment.

Fitzgerald is a partner in Corbin, Fitzgerald & Athey, which bills itself as a “boutique litigation firm” specializing in white-collar crime and civil cases in his native Los Angeles.

The biographical information he sent to the committee lists his membership in four gay-related organizations: the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (no years of membership are identified), the Harvard-Radcliffe Gay and Lesbian Caucus (from 2006 to present), the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center Leadership Task Force (from 2007-2008) and the Stonewall Democratic Club (“late-1990s”).

The biographical information also indicates Fitzgerald participated in the campaign to defeat California’s same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8.
He also notes that he spoke at a press conference about a settlement in the case of Buttino v. FBI, in which — in 1993 — the Federal Bureau of Investigation agreed to stop banning openly gay people from serving as FBI agents.

Fitzgerald’s summary of the Buttino case, in response to the requisite Senate questionnaire, noted that Frank Buttino was an agent with the FBI who was “outed” by an anonymous source to Buttino’s supervisor. The supervisor stripped Buttino of his security clearance and, therefore, his ability to serve as an agent.

“At my request,” wrote Fitzgerald, one of his earlier law firms, “Heller Ehrman decided to represent Mr. Buttino at trial on a pro bono basis. I obtained class certification and then represented Mr. Buttino and the class [of all gay and lesbian FBI employees] at trial.”

After several days of trial, noted Fitzgerald, the FBI agreed to settle the case out of court. In doing so, the FBI, he said, “renounced its prior policy of viewing homosexuality as a ‘negative factor’ in regard to security clearance,” agreed to hire an openly gay agent, and restored Buttino’s pension.

Durbin asked Fitzgerald about the Buttino case. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, described Fitzgerald as a “activist” but then quickly added that he does not “subscribe to the view that having been an activist in one area or another disqualifies anyone from ascending to the bench .…” But Lee said it was the committee’s duty to make sure nominees “know the difference between advocacy and jurisprudence” and will “not engage in any kind of political activism while on the bench.”

He asked how Fitzgerald’s prior advocacy would affect him on the bench.

“Sir, I don’t believe that it would have any influence on my service as a federal judge,” said Fitzgerald. “I would not bring any personal or political views to bear on any of the cases that I determined as a United States district judge.”

He also said he is aware of the necessity to recuse himself not only when he personally believed there might be a conflict of interest but also when a “reasonable onlooker” might think so.

Fitzgerald indicates that he did not serve in the military “because men born between March 29, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1959, were not required to register.”

He earned an A.B. magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1981 and graduated from the Berkeley School of Law in 1985. He clerked for 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Irving Kaufman and worked three years in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking members, including the ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, were not present. Nor was ranking majority member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Republican Sen. Lee noted 85 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees have been approved and that was “comparatively generous treatment” of nominees by the Republican side.

Acting Chairman Durbin quickly noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had needed to call for a forced vote (cloture) to try and put the nominations of 25 of those nominees on the floor.

Senators on the committee have a week to submit additional questions to the nominees in writing. The committee could vote on Fitzgerald’s nomination within a few weeks.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Senate confirms gay U.S. attorney for W. Texas

The U.S. Senate confirmed Robert Lee Pitman (right), an openly gay man, as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas on Monday.

Pitman is believed to be the first openly gay U.S. attorney in Texas, but he is not the first in the nation. Nominated by President Barack Obama, Pitman will serve as chief federal prosecutor for a 68-county region.

Interestingly, Pitman’s nomination was supported by anti-gay Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Pitman is a Fort Worth native and graduate of Trinity Valley School. Read a detailed profile here.

—  John Wright

Ready for the fight

Baldwin says she doesn’t believe anti-gay attacks against her in her U.S. Senate bid would work with Wisconsin voters


Openly gay members of Congress Rep. Tammy Baldwin, center, and Rep. Jared Polis, right, answer questions from Jonathan Capehart, left, at the International Gay Lesbian Leadership Conference in San Francisco in December 2009. Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, has announced she is seeking the seat in the U.S. Senate left vacant by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Herbert Kohl. If she wins the election, Baldwin will become the first openly LGBT person in the U.S. Senate. (Russel A. Daniels/Associated Press)

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin said last week that her campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Wisconsin “will not be about me,” but she’s “prepared to respond to any number of likely attacks in this political age,” including ones based on her sexual orientation.

Baldwin, one of only four openly gay members of the U.S. House, announced Sept. 6 that she will seek the Democratic nomination to replace Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat who announced in May that he would not seek re-election in 2012.

Although Baldwin is not the first openly gay person to run for a U.S. Senate seat, her campaign has ignited considerable enthusiasm in the LGBT political community.

Chuck Wolfe, head of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports openly gay candidates for elective office, said in a telephone conference call with LGBT media Sept. 7 that the Victory Fund “believes this will be an important race for our community.”
He predicted the community would “rally around” Baldwin, whom he called a “stellar” representative of the community.

Baldwin, who participated in that call and took questions from the media, said she expects the campaign to be “hotly, hotly contested,” as are all Senate races in recent years.

The partisan balance has been closely divided for years. Democrats currently have 51 seats plus 2 Independents who caucus with them; Republicans have 47.

It takes a majority of 60 to break a filibuster staged by a minority party, and the Republican Party has made the filibuster an almost routine maneuver since 2008, in hopes of thwarting a second term for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Following Obama’s election in 2008, Democrats and Independents held 60 seats.

Baldwin said her first challenge will be to introduce herself to parts of Wisconsin outside her district of Madison, the state capital.

She said current polling suggests between 52 percent and 55 percent of voters in the state recognize her name. And given the potential for a hotly contested Senate race to include an anti-gay attack, said Baldwin, she’s eager to introduce herself to voters around the state before an attacker does.

Baldwin doesn’t necessarily believe an anti-gay attack will be particularly effective in Wisconsin. She noted that the western part of the state has also elected an openly gay member of Congress before: U.S. Rep. Steve Gunderson.

Gunderson ran for re-election twice after he was outed in 1991.

Baldwin noted that she has been openly gay “all my adult life” and she thinks the voters of Wisconsin “appreciate values of honesty and integrity.

“And I have a lifetime commitment to equality for all,” said Baldwin.

But “this campaign,” Baldwin added, “will not be about me. It will be about the middle class, the threats they’re facing, and which candidate is the best fighter for them.”

Meanwhile, two state representatives in Wisconsin announced Sept. 7 that they will seek the Democratic nomination to run for Baldwin’s seat.

One is openly gay Rep. Mark Pocan, who filled in Baldwin’s state assembly seat when she was elected to Congress.

The other is State Rep. Kelda Roys, the youngest member of the Wisconsin assembly and former head of the Wisconsin chapter of NARAL.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.


—  Kevin Thomas

Tammy Baldwin joins U.S. Senate race

Rep. Tammy Baldwin
Rep. Tammy Baldwin

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin entered the race Tuesday for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl, becoming the first Democrat to officially jump in the contest.

The seat is one of at least eight open spots that will help determine the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans need to pick up just four seats to take control.

One of the most liberal members of Congress, Baldwin had been saying since Kohl announced his retirement in May that she was seriously considering a Senate bid. Her congressional district includes the city of Madison, a liberal Democratic stronghold, and some surrounding rural areas.

Baldwin, 49, made her announcement in an email and video announcement to supporters early Tuesday. If elected, she would become the first openly gay member of the Senate.

Baldwin, the first woman whom Wisconsin voters sent to Congress, was also the first person elected to Congress after announcing they were gay. She was first elected in 1998.

She downplayed the historic significance of her candidacy during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. She said she supports equal opportunity for all people, regardless of race or sexual orientation, but that her focus of the race will be on fighting for the middle class.

“From day one, I have always been open about my sexual orientation,” Baldwin said on the call. “I think that integrity is something that is important to voters.”

She called for a new federal stimulus plan focused on improving schools, roads, bridges and other infrastructure in order to put people to work immediately.

“I hope we hear the president calling for that later this week,” she said.

Baldwin also used her video message to mention her opposition to the war in Iraq and her support for ending the war in Afghanistan, as well as to hint at the obstacles her candidacy will face as she seeks to win her first statewide election.

“I’m used to facing challenges head on,” she said. “When I first ran for Congress in 1998, people counted me out. But we worked hard, campaigned across south-central Wisconsin, and we won.”

Republicans are sure to go after Baldwin’s liberal voting record, hoping to sway independent and moderate voters their way in a state that has swung between handing President Barack Obama a 14-point win in 2008 and kicking Democrats out of power in the Statehouse in 2010.

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann entered the Senate race last week. Neumann said at the time that he was focusing his campaign on Baldwin, who he presumed would capture the Democratic nomination.

Neumann and other Republicans lined up to cast Baldwin as a liberal who is unelectable statewide.

“I’m a conservative, she’s a liberal — it’s that simple,” Neumann said in his statement.

Brad Courtney, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, called Baldwin a “disastrous failure” when it comes to creating jobs and fixing the nation’s economy.

“We look forward to contrasting Baldwin’s record of less jobs and more big government spending against the proven fiscal responsibility of the Republican candidates,” Courtney said.

There promises to be a spirited contest on the GOP side, with longtime Gov. Tommy Thompson making serious moves toward his first run for office since 1998. Other Republicans indicating they plan to run include Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, a top ally of polarizing Gov. Scott Walker; state Sen. Frank Lasee, a lawmaker who once advocated arming teachers to protect their classrooms; and former state Sen. Ted Kanavas, a lower-profile candidate who’s been quietly building support.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse is considering running, as is former two-term U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen of Appleton. Former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost re-election last year to Republican Ron Johnson, has said he wouldn’t run for any office in 2012.

Kind’s campaign spokesman and Kagen did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Baldwin’s entrance into the Senate race leaves her House seat open for the first time in 14 years. A number of potential Democratic candidates have already expressed interest, including state Reps. Mark Pocan and Kelda Helen Roys.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Prop 8 case back before Calif. Supreme Court; Baldwin announces Senate bid

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin
Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin at the Black Tie Dinner in Dallas last year.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on whether sponsors of Proposition 8 have standing to defend the same-sex marriage ban in court. The state Supreme Court’s ruling, due within 90 days, will help determine whether a federal court takes up the sponsors’ appeal of a decision declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional.

2. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., formally announced today that she’s running for U.S. Senate. If she wins, Baldwin will become the first openly LGBT person to serve in the Senate. “The fact is, I’ve been honest about my sexual orientation my entire adult life,” Baldwin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “And integrity is important in public service. But what voters are looking for is somebody who understands them, is fighting for them and won’t give up. The election is not going to be about me, it’s about the voters.”

3. LGBT activists glitter-bombed an anti-gay group from a chair lift at the Minnesota State Fair this weekend. The anti-gay group, Minnesota for Marriage, reportedly was given preferential treatment to distribute literature at the fair over a pro-equality group, Minnesotans United for All Families. Watch the glitter-bombing below.

—  John Wright

Candidate touts Democratic values

Sean Hubbard plans to campaign as a liberal, including supporting same-sex marriage

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

“I’m tired of the Democratic Party being afraid,” said Sean Hubbard, 30, who is running to take Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s place in the U.S. Senate.

With the vacancy left by Hutchison’s decision not to run for re-election, this election cycle presents the Democrats with a rare opportunity that might not come around again for another generation.

Although Hubbard filed with the Federal Election Commission three days before Hutchison announced her plans to retire, her departure leaves a rare opening.

At the time he registered his intention to run for the Democratic nomination for the seat, Hubbard thought Hutchison’s recent turn to the right was a ploy to head off a Tea Party challenge. Instead, her departure presented an opportunity.

In the general election, Hubbard said, he’d rather run against a Tea Party candidate than a well-funded, well-known opponent like Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. But he’s prepared for either.

Only one other candidate has indicated an intention to run for the seat on the Democratic ticket by filing with the FEC — Gen. Ricardo Sanchez who was commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq in 2003-04. Candidates have until Jan. 1 to register for the 2012 election.

Hubbard has been speaking to party leaders across the state. After the resounding defeat of Houston Mayor Bill White in his race against incumbent Gov. Rick Perry in 2010, few well-known names in the Democratic Party appear to have an appetite for a statewide race in Texas.

Hubbard cites some of the mistakes recent candidates have made, including running from core Democratic values.

“I’m an open supporter of gay marriage,” he said.

He bases his opposition to civil unions on Brown vs. Board of Education and said that separate is not equal.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas was one of the first groups Hubbard visited to ask for support.

He also supports a stronger focus on public education and hiring more teachers, rather than firing them.

“The goal of Republicans is to destroy public education,” he said. “I have to make sure Texas has schools that teach about Thomas Jefferson and not the Heritage Foundation.”

Hubbard said that attracting the Latino vote is crucial to his campaign, and he has visited both LULAC and Rainbow LULAC chapters in Dallas. He said his understanding of immigration issues comes from his wife, who arrived in this country as a refugee from Cambodia. She was born in a Khmer Rouge concentration camp and is currently expecting the couple’s first child.

“I have to work for the Latino vote,” Hubbard said. “Without it you can’t win,” adding that not fighting for those votes was one of White’s biggest campaign mistakes.

Hubbard said his age is always part of the discussion about his candidacy. But within the Democratic Party, he said it’s been a plus.

“We need young blood in there,” he said party leaders have told him. “It’s time to get younger people involved.”

He notes that he’s already older than Vice President Joe Biden was when he was first sworn into the Senate.

Hubbard was born in Austin and raised in Scurry, a small town in Kaufman County. He graduated from UT Dallas with a major in political science and economics. Currently he works for a family-owned company that sells doors and moldings to custom home builders.

Hubbard said that while he expects Republican candidates to talk about deficit reduction, he plans to talk about job creation.

“We should be talking about jobs and not the debt ceiling,” he said.

His jobs plan includes increased spending for infrastructure to build high-speed rail — in which he’d like Texas to lead the nation — and roads and bridges.

He’d give tax credits to small businesses that hire more employees and would like to see government-funded training for green energy jobs.

Low-interest loans should be given to people who want to start green industry businesses, Hubbard believes.

“Banks need to lend a certain percentage of money they are given from the government,” he said. “They can’t just sit on it for cash reserves.”

He said there’s no evidence that cutting spending creates jobs, as Republicans suggest.

Hubbard said he looks forward to campaigning with President Obama next year.

“Running away makes you look ashamed and disingenuous,” he said. He called that a mistake other Democrats have made.

He said when Texans are asked who they like better, Obama polls higher than Perry. Hubbard said that this was the right time for him to run.

“I don’t believe in waiting until the time is right,” he said, “Because the time will never be right.”

Hubbard said he understands the fundraising challenge and has a successful, retired Democratic fundraiser from Kentucky working with him. The fundraiser came out of retirement to work on the Hubbard campaign because he liked that the candidate is not afraid to run as a Democrat in Texas.

“I’m invested in the future of this country,” Hubbard said. “I’m 30 years old, and about to have a baby. I have to make sure America succeeds. I have to make sure Texas succeeds.”

If elected, he plans to live in Texas and commute home weekends. He wants his children to attend Texas public schools.
But Hubbard is realistic about his chances.

“I know I’m a long-shot candidate,” he said, “But I represent Democratic values.

—  John Wright

Senate hearing on DOMA repeal is set

‘Respect for Marriage Act’ has 27 co-sponsors so far, all Democrats

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled Wednesday, July 20, at 10 a.m. to hear testimony on a bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The specific bill in question is the “Respect for Marriage Act” (S. 598), introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for herself and Sens. Kirstein Gillibrand, D-NY, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced last week he would hold a hearing on the bill — the first Congressional hearing on a proposal to repeal DOMA.

The Respect for Marriage Act would also stipulate that, “for the purposes of any federal law in which marital status is a factor, an individual shall be considered married if that individual’s marriage is valid in the State where the marriage was entered into. …”

It also calls for recognition of marriages licensed in other countries.

The bill currently has 27 co-sponsors, including Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Durbin, D-Ill and John Kerry, D-Mass.

No Republicans have yet co-sponsored the bill.

Live webcasts of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings can be viewed at the committee’s website: judiciary.senate.gov.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Statement puts lesbian Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin a step closer to historic Senate bid

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin

Press release from Wisconsin Democrat’s campaign identifies her as ‘likely candidate’ for seat being vacated by Herbert Kohl

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

Her campaign stationery says “Tammy Baldwin 2012.” But the text of the July 13 press release walks the U.S. House’s only openly lesbian member one step closer to an historic bid for a U.S. Senate seat:

“She is a likely candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI).”

That statement echoed a comment she made to the Capital Times newspaper in Madison July 2 when she said, “I think I am likely to run.”

If she does enter the race, Baldwin will become the first openly gay person to make a run for the U.S. Senate. And clearly, her supporters are urging a bid.

According to the press release, Baldwin raised more than $435,000 in the month of June, the month after the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund reported sources close to Baldwin as saying she was eyeing the seat.

Kohl announced May 13 that he would retire, rather than run for re-election in 2012. Newspapers in Wisconsin immediately began identifying a list of potential candidates that included Baldwin.

Others mentioned, on the Democratic side, include former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his re-election bid only last year to newcomer Republican Ron Johnson.

Feingold would be considered the Democrats’ strongest candidate because of his name recognition and long-time service in the Senate.

A Public Policy Polling survey in May of 784 likely Democratic primary voters in Wisconsin found 70 percent supported Feingold for the seat; Baldwin came in second with 12 percent. Six other Democrats earned between one and five percent each.

“Remove Feingold from consideration,” said a Public Policy Polling press release May 27, “and the race becomes considerably more wide open, but Baldwin would start out with 30 percent….”

Her closest competitors, according to the survey, would be former U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen with 17 percent and current Rep. Ron Kind with 16 percent.

Capital Times Executive Editor Paul Fanlund said, in a July 5 article, that Baldwin is “steaming toward a 2012 candidacy” for the Senate seat and “it almost seems the only person who could alter her course is former senator Russ Feingold … .”

Feingold has said he would make an announcement of his intentions in September. But he urged other Democrats considering a bid to go ahead with their plans and not wait for his decision.

Baldwin told the Capital Times she thinks she would have to raise between $15 million and $20 million for a Senate race.

Her July 13 press release indicates that her July 15 quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission shows she has raised $502,485 “for the second quarter” of the 2011-2012 election cycle. For the same second quarter in the previous election cycle (2009-2010), she reported raising $107,533.

At her July 15 quarterly in 2009, she had $561,563 cash-on-hand in her campaign coffers. Her press release this month says she has $1.1 million.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Oetken sidesteps questions on brief in sodomy case

Paul Oetken

Gay court nominee says arguments in brief he wrote for Lawrence v. Texas expressed his client’s views, not necessarily his

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

When openly gay federal district court nominee Paul Oetken went before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in March, Sen. Charles Grassley was the only Republican who showed up.


He introduced Oetken, who was born in his home state of Iowa, but had no questions.

But not all questioning takes place in front of cameras. Some takes place on paper, and that’s where Grassley grilled Oetken over his positions on gay-related issues, and Oetken responded in a way that might make some LGBT activists cringe.

“Do you personally believe that government classifications based on sexual orientation deserve a heightened level of scrutiny?” asked Grassley, in one of 17 questions to Oetken.
Grassley’s question concerned a brief Oetken wrote for the National Gay and Lesbian Bar Association and submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of overturning laws prohibiting same-sex sexual relations.

The case was Lawrence v. Texas and, in 2003, a majority of the Supreme Court did overturn such laws. Oetken’s brief argued that the courts should use the strictest form of scrutiny when examining laws that treat gay people differently.

In responding to Grassley, Oetken put some distance between himself and the brief, saying, “I have not expressed a personal view on this subject. The arguments in the amicus brief that I co-authored in Lawrence v. Texas were arguments made on behalf of clients.”

“Although I believed that there was a good faith basis in Supreme Court precedent for making those arguments [in the brief], they do not necessarily reflect how I would approach these issues as a district judge,” wrote Oetken.

Oetken also put some distance between his brief and the Supreme Court’s decision, noting that, “The Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas did not decide that case under the Equal Protection Clause, but rather under the Due Process Clause, and it therefore did not decide the issues addressed in my amicus brief in that case.”

Oetken also said, “If confirmed as a district judge, I would apply the applicable precedents of the Supreme Court and the Second Circuit.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions also submitted written questions about Oetken’s brief in Lawrence. Sessions noted that Oetken had argued that the issue of physician-assisted suicide should be decided by each state legislature.

He quoted Oetken saying, the issue of physician-assisted suicide “should stay where it belongs, in the legislatures” because the states’ “varied approaches to the issue may, over time, aid in forming a national consensus, making it possible for Congress to resolve it through national legislation.”

But Sessions was interested in how Oetken could argue, in 2002, to leave the suicide issue to the states and then argue, in 2003, “that Texas’ anti-sodomy law was something that warranted federal intervention. …”

Oetken, again, noted that the Lawrence brief included “arguments made on behalf of clients.”

His argument to leave the suicide issue to the states, he said, was appropriate given that there was no federal legislation addressing it.

Oetken’s nomination was reported out of committee on April 7 and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Rep. Tammy Baldwin ‘very likely’ to run for Senate

Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, speaks during the 2010 Black Tie Dinner in Dallas. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Wisconsin congresswoman would be 1st openly gay person to serve in upper house

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s office is, thus far, silent on whether the openly gay legislator might make a bid for the U.S. Senate. But buzz about that possibility is hot, particularly within the LGBT community because, if successful, Baldwin would become the first openly gay person to serve in the U.S. Senate.

An aide to Baldwin did not respond to this reporter’s inquiry.

But the Wisconsin Democratic chair told reporters in a phone call with state media outlets that Baldwin is “very seriously considering running,” according to the Milwaukee Journal. The Journal added, “A close adviser to Baldwin echoed that sentiment.”

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which supports openly gay candidates, indicated on its website that “sources close” to Baldwin said she is “very likely” to run.

“This would obviously be a top priority for us,” said Victory Fund president Chuck Wolfe, according to the website. “This would be a remarkable milestone for LGBT Americans. Congresswoman Baldwin is one of the most admired public officials I know. She would have the strong support of those who want to see our economy work for all Americans, and who believe that all voices deserve a place at the table.”

The Victory Fund even launched a petition where people can “tell Tammy Baldwin we need her voice in the Senate.” Sign it by going here.

There is no shortage of potential candidates for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, the incumbent Democrat from Wisconsin. Kohl made an announcement May 13 that he would not seek re-election in 2012 — an announcement that had not been expected.

Newspapers in Wisconsin immediately began identifying a list of potential candidates — a very long list — that included Baldwin. Others mentioned, on the Democratic side, include former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost his re-election bid only last year to newcomer Republican Ron Johnson.

Most prominent in the GOP category is Rep. Paul Ryan, who has been much in the news for his proposals, as chair of the House Budget Committee, to make enormous cuts in spending.

Ryan said he would make his decision in the next few days. A former aide to Feingold said Feingold would probably decide within the next month.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin holds its annual convention in Milwaukee beginning June 3, so some candidates may hold off on their decisions until they have a chance to test the waters with state party leaders.

The 2010 Senate race in Wisconsin was a very close one, with Republican Johnson winning with 52 percent of the vote, over incumbent Feingold’s 47 percent. Political maps of party leanings show a state with several pockets of Democrat and Republican voters, but more than half the state leans toward no particular party.

The Milkwaukee Journal quoted one of the state’s Democratic strategists as saying a key to determining who will emerge as a viable candidate is who can show the ability to raise between $2 million to $4 million just for the primary.

Baldwin needed only $1. 2 million last year to win re-election to her seventh term.

She has represented the district that includes Madison, with a focus on health issues.

Baldwin, who turned 49 in February, graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. She was elected Dane County Supervisor for four terms, then served three terms in the State House of Representatives, before running for Congress. With her election in 1998, she became the first woman from Wisconsin to serve in the U.S. House and the first non-incumbent openly gay person to win a seat to Congress.

As one of four openly gay people in the U.S. House, Baldwin has been a leader on numerous bills of interest to LGBT people and a prominent voice for ensuring that legislation covers all sexual minorities.

© 2011 Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright