Floor Statement On The Confirmation Of Beth Robinson To The Second Circuit Court Of Appeals

The Senate today will vote on confirmation of Vermont’s own Justice Beth Robinson to serve as a Judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  As an advocate, Beth Robinson has been rightfully hailed as a tireless champion for equal rights and equal justice.  But more importantly, her record as a Vermont Supreme Court Justice clearly demonstrates her fairness, impartiality, and loyalty to the rule of law, above all else.  Vermonters overwhelmingly support her nomination, including elected officials from both sides of the aisle, the entire Vermont Supreme Court bench, and the Vermont Bar Association.  Justice Robinson will fill Vermont’s seat on the Second Circuit, and, I believe, is the best, strongest candidate for this position.  She deserves bipartisan support in this Senate.

Beth Robinson was appointed by Governor Peter Shumlin in November 2011 and, in a preview of the bipartisan support she has garnered over the years, she was unanimously confirmed by the Vermont Senate to serve on the Vermont Supreme Court.  All current Vermont Supreme Court justices – appointed by both Democratic and Republican Governors – have signed a letter supporting her nomination to the Second Circuit.  For the past decade, she has served on the Court honorably, and has participated in nearly 1,800 decisions. 

Her tenure has been a display of commitment to the rule of law.  Her unwavering, decade-long dedication as a jurist and her loyalty to the law above all else has made Beth Robinson an outstanding Vermont Supreme Court Justice.  I have no doubt she will carry that approach to justice with her to the Second Circuit.

Prior to her time on the bench, Justice Robinson dedicated her legal career to pursuing liberty and justice for all.  She spent the beginning of her legal career defending workers’ rights and advancing discrimination cases.  It was during this time that she worked pro bono as co-counsel to the plaintiffs in the case Baker v.  State, which challenged Vermont’s prohibition on same sex marriage.  She successfully litigated this landmark decision, in which the Vermont Supreme Court upheld equal protections for same-sex couples and led Vermont to become the first state to enact civil unions in the country.

As a litigator, Beth’s work served as a blueprint for LGBTQ advocacy across the country.  She successfully represented an employee of the University of Vermont who sought recognition of his Canadian marriage to a same-sex partner for health insurance purposes, a couple seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriage in the context of second-parent adoption, and a same sex partner seeking Social Security survivor benefits for her child after her civil union partner died.  In every case, Beth fought to secure legal protections and equality under the law.  Beth changed the trajectory of LGBTQ rights in this country, and her tireless work has led our nation toward justice.

Unfortunately, Justice Robinson’s path to confirmation has faced baseless attacks.  At her confirmation hearing, Justice Robinson’s commitment to religious liberty was called into question.  These attacks are simply not grounded in reality.  Any honest reading of her record proves that Justice Robinson is committed to protecting religious liberty.  Some members argued that Robinson’s work representing a Catholic woman who believed she had been discriminated against due to her own religious beliefs was – astonishingly – evidence of Robinson’s hostility toward religious liberty.

At Justice Robinson’s hearing, other members of the Judiciary Committee quoted her out of context in an attempt to support a false narrative.  One member of the Committee read part of a sentence from a marriage law symposium Justice Robinson participated in and suggested it was proof of her hostility toward religious liberty.  But this attack line falls apart the moment you bother to read the full sentence.  In the full quote, Justice Robinson states, “I’ve always said that if somebody tried to force the Catholic Church to do a gay wedding, I would represent the Church pro bono.”  This simply cannot be construed as hostility to religious freedom. 

Justice Robinson has a long record of supporting the fundamental right to religious liberty, both as a judge and as an advocate.  The Vermonters I have heard from – regardless of party or ideology – are delighted that President Biden nominated Beth Robinson to fill the Vermont seat on the Second Circuit.  If confirmed, she would become the first openly gay woman to serve on a federal circuit court of appeals.  I urge all senators to evaluate Justice Robinson’s record.  I hope that senators of both parties will see, as I have, that she possesses exactly the right qualities, skills, and experience to excel as a judge on the Second Circuit.  

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