President Obama is continuing the drive to diversify the legal bench with his latest nominee: Staci Michelle Yandle, an African-American lesbian.
Obama nominated Yandle as a federal judge for the district court of the Southern District of Illinois, Obama’s home state. That would make her the first African-American judge in that court and the first openly gay judge on the 7th Circuit, according to Politico. Yandle follows in the footsteps of Deborah Batts, the first African-American lesbian judge, nominated by Clinton. There has never been an African-American gay male judge in the federal court system.
Yandle, who is in private practice, has said that the plaintiff bar needs to be more representative in terms of race, sexual orientation, and physical ability.
“The plaintiff bar needs to be more embracing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community,” she said in an interview with the American Association for Justice in July 2012. “When I first started practicing, for a while I did not feel comfortable acknowledging my sexual orientation because I didn’t want it to cost me my job. I wanted to be judged on my merit and my merit alone. Many members of the LGBT community still have that fear. We are a traditional profession that is conservative in many ways,”
Yandle has the support of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D).
“Staci Yandle is an excellent candidate for the federal bench in Southern Illinois," Durbin said in a statement to the Huffington Post. "She will bring a wealth of knowledge and litigation experience to the position. I am pleased that President Obama has nominated her today. I will be working with Senator Kirk to see her nomination approved by the Senate."
Diversifying the bench has been a priority for Obama. Among his four current nominees is Salvador Mendoza, Jr., a state Superior Court judge, for the district court of Washington state’s Eastern District. Mendoza would be the first Hispanic judge in that role.