The U.S. Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to lesbian law professor Chai Feldblum as President Obama’s nominee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Feldblum has been serving on the five-member Commission since April, when President Obama put her onto the commission using a procedure that enables him to circumvent a Senate confirmation vote temporarily—called a recess appointment because it can be done while the Senate is on recess.
But appointees who take their positions via the recess appointment still have to go through the confirmation vote in the Senate. That vote, for Feldblum and three other nominees to the EEOC, has been held up for months by an unidentified Republican senator—or senators—using the Senate rules that enable any senator to put a hold on an appointee’s confirmation vote.
The Senate, on Wednesday night, confirmed the appointments of Feldblum and three other EEOC nominees by unanimous consent, a process by which the Senate can vote on a number of routine matters at once.
Interestingly, one letter in support of Feldblum late in the process, came from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest federation of businesses. The group has been in the news in recent months for funneling millions of dollars into the mid-term elections, mostly in support of Republican interests.
Randel Johnson, senior vice president of the Chamber, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell December 21, urging the confirmations of Feldblum and two other nominees.
“The Chamber has not, and know that we will not, agree with them on every issue,” wrote Johnson, “but it has been our experience that each is open to hear and consider the concerns of all interested stakeholders.”
Another December 21st letter came from the head of the Society for Human Resource Management, Henry Jackson. Jackson said SHRM had worked with Feldblum on “critical workplace issues such as retirement security and workplace flexibility,” when Feldblum headed Georgetown University Law Center’s Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic. Jackson said that Feldblum and the other EEOC nominees “have provided a fair hearing to all viewpoints and serve as thoughtful and constructive arbiters of equal opportunity issues in the workplace.”
Numerous right-wing groups voiced opposition to Feldblum shortly after she was nominated last fall. The Traditional Values Coalition called her a “radical,” saying she would “use her power to strip nearly all First Amendment rights of freedom of expression/free exercise of religion from businesses.” Concerned Women for America said she “represents one of the most serious threats to religious freedom we have seen in a long time.” And The Family Research Council said Feldblum “openly admitted to supporting polygamy.”
But, strangely, no opposition surfaced during Feldblum’s public confirmation hearing last November. Instead, numerous pro-civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, lobbied hard for her appointment.
Feldblum is probably best known for her work on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which passed in 1990, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and other areas against people with disabilities. The law also covered people with HIV infection.
She is best known to the LGBT community as a key counsel on the drafting and negotiations over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). She also served for a time as legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C.
Feldblum served for a year as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. And, prior to joining the EEOC, she was a professor of law at Georgetown University and as co-director of the university’s Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic.
The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement December 23 praising the Senate for confirming Feldblum to a full term and noting that, had it not done so, Feldblum’s temporary appointment would have expired in December 2011. Her current appointment term will continue through July 2013.