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Obama makes three big appointments (UPDATE)
News update Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011
by Lisa Keen, Keen News Service
2011-01-26

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President Obama, on Jan. 26, appointed two prominent gays to important positions in his administration and nominated an openly gay attorney to a judgeship for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Roberta Achtenberg, a longtime lesbian civil-rights activist in San Francisco and the first openly gay presidential appointee ( under President Clinton ) , has been named as a commissioner on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. She will be one of eight members of the commission—four of whom are appointed by the president and four appointed by Congress.

Jeffrey Levi, who once headed the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, received an appointment as a member of the newly created Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

And Obama nominated openly gay attorney J. Paul Oetken to become one of 44 judges serving the federal district court that encompasses Manhattan. The U.S. Senate must approve Oetken's nomination. If approved, Oetken would become the second openly gay judge in that federal district, along with Deborah Batts. He would be the third openly gay federal judge in the country, along with Emily Hewitt of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Clinton appointed both Batts and Hewitt.

Oetken is not Obama's first openly gay nominee to the federal bench. In April of last year, he nominated Edward DuMont to a position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal District. If approved, DuMont would be the first openly gay appointee to a federal appeals court. But DuMont's nomination—along with that of many others—has been tied up by Republican opposition in the U.S. Senate.

Oetkin served as associate counsel to the president in the Clinton White House and served as an attorney-advisor with the Clinton Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. He currently works as senior vice president and associate general council for Cablevisions Systems Corporation. Oetkin served as a clerk for former Justice Harry Blackmun, one of the U.S. Supreme Court's more liberal justices.

Achtenberg, who co-founded the National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ) and is a former member of the of San Francisco Board of Supervisors, is best known as "that damn lesbian." That's the designation flung her way by notoriously anti-gay U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Helms opposed Achtenberg's appointment as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ( HUD ) under Clinton. The Senate approved her appointment over Helms' objections. She later worked with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Center for Economic Development. She is currently a member of the California State University Board of Trustees and vice chair of the Board of the Bank of San Francisco.

Jeff Levi was the first lobbyist ever hired by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and later served as its executive director. Levi served as deputy director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy under Clinton and worked, for a time, as an associate editor of the American Journal of Public Health. Levi has worked on HIV policy issues since the beginning of the epidemic and currently works as Executive Director of Trust for America's Health ( TFAH ) , a non-profit organization dedicated to making disease prevention a national priority. He is also professor of health policy at George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services.

©2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

****

The Human Rights Campaign today lauded President Obama's Jan. 26 appointment of Roberta Achtenberg to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Achtenberg was the first openly gay or lesbian person to be confirmed to a government position by the Senate.

"Roberta Achtenberg is a public servant of the highest caliber and will be a critical voice on the commission in ensuring that the civil rights of all Americans are protected," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "LGBT equality is the civil rights issue of our time and this position will allow her to bring our community's concerns front and center in the national dialogue."

President Clinton appointed Achtenberg to be Assistant Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1993. Prior to that she was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and had an illustrious career as a civil rights attorney. She is also a co-founder of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"President Obama has made a wonderful selection in Roberta Achtenberg," added Solmonese. "A true advocate of fairness and equality for all people, this new position will allow her to use her talents in furtherance of our country's highest aspirations."


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