Paul Oetken: Living proof that it does get better

I look for three qualities in judicial candidates – excellence, moderation, and diversity.

Paul’s excellence is provable on paper. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Yale Law School, and has worked in the highest echelons of two of the three branches of government – including for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice and for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. He has also climbed the ranks of private legal practice  – serving most recently as the head of litigation for a large media company, Cablevision.  

I consider a broad range of experiences to be an important training ground for teaching judicial candidates the second quality that I look for -- moderation. I do not like judges who tend too far to the right, but I do not like judges who come from a perspective that is too far left, either.  Paul Oetken fits the bill of a mainstream, moderate judge. His moderation, and modesty, were evident during his confirmation hearing and are clear to all who know him.  

When a candidate has these two qualities, diversity is a bonus. 

But in this case, at this moment, Paul is not just an excellent candidate. As the first openly gay man to be confirmed as a federal judge and to serve on the federal bench, he will be a symbol of how much we have achieved as a country in just the last few decades.

And importantly, he will give hope to many talented young lawyers who, until now, thought their paths might be limited because of their sexual orientation. When Paul becomes Judge Oetken, he will be living proof to all those young lawyers that it really does get better. 

Paul Oetken’s modest but brave act of going through the confirmation process makes this otherwise quiet moment historic. But long after today, what the history books will note about Paul are his achievements as a fair and brilliant judge.

Mr./Madam President, in a few moments our country will take one step closer towards equality and away from bigotry and prejudice. I am very proud to play a supporting role in it, and I look forward to Paul Oetken’s service on the bench in the Southern District of New York.  

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