Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the nomination of Seth Marnin to the Court of Claims this week, billing it as the first time an openly transgender man will serve as a judge in U.S. history. Marnin is currently an executive within Columbia University's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.
"I have full faith that this historic and outstanding group of appointees will serve New Yorkers with fairness and impartiality," Hochul said in a statement accompanying the nomination, which also included 10 other first-time appointments. "With diverse perspectives and extensive expertise, I'm confident that each appointee will bring honor and integrity to New York State's judiciary."
The Court of Claims is the trial-level court for certain lawsuits against New York and statewide entities.
"Certainly Seth Marnin's nomination and confirmation today is a proud, proud achievement for our state as we continue to lead the nation, not only during Pride Month, but throughout the year in making sure that we are putting forth equality, justice and fairness," said state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) on the Senate floor Friday afternoon.
Has the U.S. appointed other transgender judges?
While Marnin's appointment certainly marks a turning point for LGBTQ representation in the judiciary, it does come with several caveats.
According to statistics compiled by the administrative arm of the courts, at least one state-paid judge in New York identified as transgender in 2022. Those statistics are anonymized and compiled pursuant to a voluntary survey, which only captures around three-quarters of the sitting state-paid judges. It also excludes town and village court justices.
Between 2021 and this year, several New York judges identified in the anonymous survey as non-binary. According to the most recent survey, nearly 2% of state-paid judges identify as gay, around 1% as lesbian and nearly 1% as bisexual.
The U.S. saw its first openly transgender judge take the bench in 2010, when Phyllis Frye was appointed to sit on the city of Houston's municipal court, according to the International Association of LGBTQ+ Judges.
In 2020, Rolando Acosta, then the presiding justice of the Appellate Division's Manhattan branch, wrote that the state has "made measurable progress towards greater diversity," but emphasized that there were still gaps to fill.
"Diversity and inclusion are not just abstract concepts that warrant lip service in the legal profession; they are at the heart of promoting justice and respect for democratic institutions and the rule of law," he said in an article for the New York State Bar Association Journal. "It is, therefore, difficult to overstate the importance of ensuring that our judiciary reflects the makeup of the citizenry."
Asher Stockler is a reporter for The Journal News and the USA Today Network New York. You can find him on Twitter at @quasiasher or send him an email at email@example.com. Reach him securely: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: First openly trans male judge, NY's Seth Marnin to Court of Claims