The confirmation of Paul Oetken

Given the extent to which Senate Republicans have broken the chamber’s confirmation process, it seems like a minor miracle when a federal judicial nominee is able to actually garner Senate approval. With that in mind, when the Senate confirmed J. Paul Oetken to a district court in New York last night, it seemed notable for being the first confirmation of a judicial nominee in a month.

But there’s more to this story. Oetken is a qualified nominee who earned his place on the bench, but he’s also the first openly-gay man ever to serve as a federal judge.

That this breakthrough occurred with very little notice is itself an encouraging sign. Conservatives didn’t flip out; the religious right didn’t organize rallies to derail the nomination; Republican senators didn’t raise a fuss; gay-rights groups didn’t feel the need to laud President Obama and Senate Democrats for the breakthrough; and the media largely overlooked the development. This was considered fairly routine, which is as it should be in a healthy, mature society.

Dana Milbank’s column today got this just right.

The remarkable thing about what happened on the Senate floor Monday night was that it was utterly unremarkable.

The matter under consideration — the nomination of the first openly gay man to serve on the federal bench — would at one time have been a flashpoint in the culture wars. But Paul Oetken was confirmed without a word of objection on the Senate floor and with hardly a mention in the commentariat.

Even some of the chamber’s most ardent social conservatives — Tom Coburn, John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, Jon Kyl — cast votes for Oetken. When the lopsided vote tally of 80-13 was read out, there was no cheer or reaction of any kind. Senators continued their conversations as if nothing unusual had happened.

For the record, none of the 13 GOP senators who voted against Oetken’s nomination — Blunt, Boozman, Cochran, Crapo, DeMint, Hatch, Hutchison, Lee, McConnell, Moran, Risch, Roberts, and Wicker — mentioned his sexual orientation. Indeed, they didn’t say anything at all. Some may have voted against him because they don’t like gays, but it’s possible they would have voted against his conformation anyway, since President Obama is the one who nominated him.

But when the gavel came down, there were 80 senators who gave Oetken a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. At this point, I’ll take good news where I can find it.