If confirmed, Judge Nitza I. Quinones Alejandro, will become the first lesbian latino woman appointed to the federal bench. On Tuesday, Nov 27th, President Obama nominated Judge Quinones and two male judges to the Third Circuit, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Judge Quinones Alejandro currently serves as a Judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas where she currently presides over civil trial. Though, she has presided over both civil and criminal matters in the County Court of Common Pleas. Judge Quinones Alejandro was the first Hispanic female judge to serve on the Court of Common Pleas.
Judge Quinones Alejandro began her career when she completed her B. A. cum laude in 1972 from the University of Puerto Rico, and her J.D. in 1975 from University of Puerto Rico School of Law. She worked as a Staff Attorney for Community Legal Services, Inc. in Philadelphia from 1975 to 1977. She was recruited to work as an attorney for the Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Hearings and Appeals for the Social Security Administration in 1977. From 1979 to 1991, Judge Quinones Alejandro worked as a Staff Attorney for the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
During his presidential campaign, President Obama publicly recognized that same sex marriage should be legal; President Obama has said, “At a certain point, I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go head and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married”. However, after his reelection Obama stated that gay marriage “would be up to future generations of Americans to implement meaningful reform”. Therefore, Obama will not venture to make a substantial change to federal law in favor of marriage equality during his next term,… or will he? Many suspected that Obama was referring to the states rights doctrine in specifying that future generations would make substantial change to marriage equality reform. With a long series of federal judicial appointments lined up for his next term, Obama might have given us a glimpse into his plans for the future with his nomination of Judge Quinones Alejandro. While her sexual orientation has nothing to do with her judicial qualifications, it does show us that President Obama is willing to appoint Judges based on qualification and not sexual orientation, which might result in a more proportionate number of gay and lesbian judges serving on the bench. If more liberal judges are appointed to the bench, marriage law reform might be more likely to occur.
Furthermore, while appointment to the federal bench is a great accomplishment for Judge Quinones Alejandro, the media is disgustingly focused on her sexual orientation. This emphasis on her sexual orientation confirms the strong prevalence of stereotypes and the construction of the “other” that still exist within our society. When the President nominates judges the media instantly identifies the nominee with racial or sexual distinctions if they are a member of the minority. Another Judge nominated along side Judge Quinones Alejandro, Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo’s nomination has received little coverage, focusing on his identity as a latino, while Judge Jefferey L. Schmehl has not been reported on singularly. This is because Judge Quinones is identified as the most “other” of the three nominations, Judge Restrepo is also seen as an other, and Judge Schmehl is not recognized as the “other”. This craze over Judge Quinones Alejandro’s “other-ness” only perpetuates the idea that she is someone on the outside because of her gender, race and sexual identity. All of which are not reasonably related to the requirement or skills needed to fulfill the position of federal judge. Yes, it is great that Judge Quinones Alejandro has broken another glass ceiling, but when are we going to stop the communications that perpetuate the stereotypes that suppress women and minorities from breaking the glass ceiling in the first place?! “Other-ness” and outsiderness should be identified by a persons lack of qualifications and experience, not their sexual orientation, not their gender, and not their race.