The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Rita Lin, who previously fought for marriage equality in federal court, as a federal judge for life.
Lin, 45, is now the first Chinese-American woman to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Lin was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 45. All Democrats in attendance voted for her, along with three Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) did not vote.
For the past five years, Lin has served as an associate judge on the San Francisco County Superior Court and previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney. She also worked in private practice for 10 years and became a doctor during that time a national name in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and marriage equality.
In 2012, Lin was co-counsel in a lawsuit that resulted in the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as an agreement between a man and a woman. is declared unconstitutional in U.S. District Court.
She was sharply criticized by Republicans at her Senate confirmation hearing last November. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) pressed her about a 1998 article she wrote in college in which she said members of the Christian Coalition were “bigots.”
“Did you write that?” Kennedy asked Lin.
“I wrote that when I was 18 years old – or 20 years old,” Lin said. “I want to make it clear that I do not agree with this today. I wrote this before I went to law school, before I did any kind of…”
“You were a grown woman when you wrote that,” Kennedy interrupted.
“That was before I had a professional career,” Lin said. “I was a junior at Harvard.”
“Wow,” Kennedy said twice before continuing.
The Christian Coalition was a conservative religious advocacy group founded by Pat Robertson, a prominent figure in conservative Christian political and entertainment circles who promoted sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic ideas for years. The group was denied tax exemption in 1999 for political activities.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 230 national civil and human rights organizations, strongly supported Lin’s nomination. The group praised her “impressive professional experience” and emphasized the “important life experience” she would bring to the court as a member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
“If confirmed, Judge Lin would be the only active AAPI woman in the Northern District of California and only the second in the court’s history,” the coalition said said in a statement. “California is home to nearly 6.5 million AAPI people, yet this court did not have an AAPI judge until 2010… Confirming Judge Lin would be an important step in ensuring that our federal courts reflect and represent the diversity of our nation.”
President Joe Biden has brought significant diversity to the federal bench, and the White House has moved relatively quickly to nominate people to vacant court seats. However, with the 2024 election season approaching and the possibility of the Senate and/or White House falling to Republican control, some progressives are pushing for Democratic leaders in the Senate to make confirming Biden’s judicial decisions a much higher priority.
Svante Myrick, president of the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way, last week called for “a logjam that now includes up to 23 circuit and district court candidates awaiting the floor vote.”
“The current administration falls short of the Trump-McConnell benchmark for the number of federal judges confirmed at this point in a presidency, with 141 versus 150 federal judges,” Myrick said in a statement, referring to former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confirmed a large number of right-wing judges when they controlled the White House and Senate.
“The Senate must pick up the pace and make these confirmations a priority if we ever hope to rebalance a court system that has been pushed to the right by McConnell and Trump,” Myrick continued. “Biden judges make tremendous contributions to the federal bench, they exemplify the deep commitment to civil rights that we want from judges – and we simply need more of them.”