The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Rita Lin, who previously fought for marriage equality in federal court, to a lifetime federal judgeship.
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 in a 52-45 vote. Every Democrat present voted for her, along with three Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) did not vote.
For the past five years, Lin has been an associate judge on the San Francisco County Superior Court, and she previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney. She was also in private practice for 10 years, during which time she became 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 arrangement between one man and one woman ― being declared unconstitutional in a U.S. district court.
She faced some scrutiny from Republicans in her Senate confirmation hearing last November. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) pressed her on a 1998 article she wrote in college, in which she said that members of the Christian Coalition are “bigots.”
“Did you write that?” Kennedy asked Lin.
“I did write that when I was 18 years old ― or 20 years old,” Lin said. “I do want to be clear, I do not agree with that today. I wrote that before I went to law school, before I had any kind of ―”
“You were a grown woman when you wrote this,” Kennedy interrupted.
“It was before I had a professional career,” Lin said. “I was a junior at Harvard.”
“Wow,” Kennedy said, twice, before moving on.
The Christian Coalition was a conservative religious advocacy group launched by Pat Robertson, a prominent figure in conservative Christian political and entertainment circles who for years promoted sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic ideas. The group was denied tax-exempt status in 1999 because it engaged in political activities.
Rita Lin, an associate judge on the San Francisco County Superior Court, testifies during her confirmation hearing for a lifetime federal judgeship before the Senate judiciary committee in November 2022.
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 highlighted the “important lived 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 serving on the bench in the Northern District of California and only the second in the court’s history,” the coalition 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 ... The confirmation of Judge Lin would be an important step towards 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 been moving at a relatively fast clip to nominate people to vacant court seats. But with the 2024 election season looming and the potential for the Senate and/or the White House to flip to GOP control, some progressives are agitating for Senate Democratic leaders to make it a much higher priority to confirm Biden’s court picks.
Svante Myrick, president of the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way, last week called out “a traffic jam that’s now up to 23 circuit and district court nominees who are awaiting floor votes.”
“The current administration is falling behind the Trump-McConnell benchmark for numbers of federal judges confirmed at this point in a presidency, with 141 to Trump’s 150,” Myrick said in a statement, referring to former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confirming huge numbers of far-right judges when they controlled the White House and the Senate.
“The Senate has to pick up the pace and prioritize these confirmations if we ever hope to rebalance a court system pushed to the right by McConnell and Trump,” Myrick continued. “Biden judges are making enormous contributions to the federal bench, they exemplify the deep commitment to civil rights we want in judges ― and we just need more of them.”