Beth Robinson
Beth Robinson appears before a Senate Committee on the Judiciary for her nomination hearing to be United States Circuit Judge for the Second Circuit, 14 Sep 2021. (Shutterstock)

Beth Robinson Becomes First-Ever Out Lesbian Confirmed to Federal Appeals Court

The nation’s federal appeals court just became a little bit more diverse, inclusive and representative of the American population as a whole with the Senate confirmation of Beth Robinson. A previous associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court since 2011, Robinson has been confirmed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appointment makes her the first-ever out lesbian to serve within any federal circuit court.

Dan Avery of NBC News reported that “the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Robinson 51-45 on Monday, Nov. 1., after President Joe Biden nominated her in August. The 13 federal courts of appeals, or circuit courts, are the last stop before a case would be heard before the Supreme Court.”

Before her 10-year stint on the Vermont Supreme Court, Robinson served as counsel to then-Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2010 and 2011. 

“As a litigator with Langrock Sperry & Wool from 1993 to 2010, she represented LGBTQ clients in several civil rights cases and served as co-counsel in Baker v. State of Vermont, which saw the Vermont Supreme Court rule that a ban on same-sex marriage violated state law,” Avery reported. “That 1999 decision led to the Vermont Legislature passing the country’s first civil union law, a precursor to same-sex marriage, the following year.”

Thanks to her work as chair of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, Robinson has been cited as one of the driving forces that helped bring marriage equality to Vermont in 2009. Vermont was also notably the first state to enact marriage equality on its own through legislation rather than through a court ruling.

When Robinson’s nomination for the position was first announced back in August 2021, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott praised the decision, saying in a statement, “she will make a great addition to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, bringing the Vermont values of commitment to justice and equality, fairness, and Freedom & Unity to the bench.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont echoed that sentiment on the Senate floor ahead of the vote to confirm Robinson, lauding her long career in the judicial system as an ongoing “display of commitment to the rule of law.”

“Beth changed the trajectory of LGBTQ rights in this country, and her tireless work has led our nation toward justice,” Leahy said.

“I know you will make Vermont proud and will be an excellent addition to the federal bench,” added Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a tweet.

The LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal also celebrated Robinson’s appointment, noting that out of 870 seats, there are currently just 13 openly gay or lesbian federal judges on the bench.

“LGBT representation in the courts is critical because judges that more accurately reflect the diversity of our nation give legitimacy to these important institutions, which have such a profound impact on the lives of so many,” Sharon McGowan, Lambda Legal’s chief strategy officer and legal director, said in a statement. “Judge Robinson’s lived and professional experiences will be assets in her work to fulfill our nation’s promise of justice.”


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