Feldblum sworn in to EEOC

Chai Feldblum

Chai Feldblum

Lesbian law professor Chai Feldblum was sworn in Wednesday as one of five commissioners on the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

President Obama nominated Feldblum in September and she was approved along with other EEOC nominees during a Senate committee vote in December. But a Republican senator, who chose not to identify himself or explain his reason, put Feldblum’s nomination, along with others, on an indefinite hold.

Senate rules enable any senator to delay a floor vote on any nomination and to do so without identifying himself for several days. But senators have been able to circumvent a rule that requires them to eventually identify themselves by taking turns putting a hold in place.

But rules also enable a president to get around such obstacles by putting nominees into office during a Congressional recess. President Obama used such a “recess appointment” procedure on March 27, the day after Congress went on recess. He used the procedure to put 11 other nominees into office as well.

Feldblum had been the target of considerable opposition from right-wing conservative groups, who said she was “radical” and hostile to the rights of religious groups.

Feldblum acknowledged during her confirmation hearing that she had signed onto a statement, “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships,” that expresses support for “committed loving households in which there are more than one conjugal partner.” The statement had been developed in 2006 by a group of 20 LGBT activists who met to discuss “marriage and family politics” in the United States.

But Feldblum told the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that she does not support polygamy, was “sorry I signed that document,” and had asked that her name be removed. As of today, however, her name is still listed as a signatory.

And though many groups had signaled they would raise opposition to her nomination, none materialized during her confirmation hearing. Instead, Feldblum took the occasion to highlight her credentials in supporting religious organizations. She has been a law professor for 19 years at the Catholic-run Georgetown University, where her Federal Legislation Clinic has represented such clients as Catholic Charities USA. She noted, too, that her father was a rabbi and survivor of the Holocaust.

“I do not think it is possible to grow up as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and not be committed to principles of pluralism and tolerance,” Feldblum said in a statement released today. “My entire professional life has been focused on civil rights and social welfare rights. In my legal work and in my scholarship, I have sought to advance the civil rights of all Americans, no matter their race, creed, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. I look forward to continuing that important work as a Commissioner of the EEOC.”

During her confirmation, Feldblum added that she “strongly” supports religious exemptions provided in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

ENDA is expected to receive a vote in both houses of Congress this year and, if it does, Feldblum’s position at EEOC will require her to help write the regulations for its implementation.

Feldblum has considerable experience in drafting such legislation and regulations. In addition to helping draft ENDA, she helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which passé din 1990 and provided landmark protections for people with HIV and other disabilities.

Feldblum graduated from Barnard College and Harvard Law School, then clerked for Judge Frank Coffin of the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and for Justice Harry Blackmun of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The EEOC’s new chairperson, Jacqueline Berrien, was also sworn in today, and a fifth and final EEOC member will be sworn in later this month, bringing the commission to its full, five-member status.

The agency has the authority to investigate, resolve, and file lawsuits over violations of federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information.

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