Metro Weekly

Lambda Legal and allies decry Trump’s “relentless assault” on LGBTQ rights

Advocates offer "pre-rebuttal" to Trump's State of the Union address, focusing on nominations of anti-LGBTQ judges

Trump gives his 2017 Address to a Joint Session of Congress – Photo: Shealah Craighead

Just hours before President Trump is scheduled to give his first State of the Union address, Lambda Legal, joined by a number of LGBTQ and progressive groups, offered a “pre-rebuttal” criticizing the president for his actions over the past year.

The advocates for the progressive groups denounced Trump’s attacks on civil rights, abortion rights, worker’s rights, and LGBTQ rights, with specific attention paid to the administration’s efforts to pack the federal courts with people with a history of anti-LGBTQ animus.

Sharon McGowan, the director of strategy at Lambda Legal, characterized the Trump administration’s actions over the past year as part of a “relentless assault” on the LGBTQ community through attempts to “turn back the clock on civil rights.”

She noted that 1 in every 3 Trump judicial nominees have been flagged by civil rights advocates for judicial records, writings, or statements that explicitly express animus or disdain for the LGBTQ community. 

“President Trump and his administration have gone after LGBT people and other vulnerable communities with every weapon in his arsenal,” McGowan said in a conference call with reporters. “To this end, the president has spent the last year packing the court with judges who look like him, think like him, and whose impact will stretch across generations. If long after President Trump has vacated the White House we have federal courts packed with judges who share his values, our children and grandchildren will continue to suffer.

“As members of Congress listen to the President’s State of the Union address, they must grapple with the clear choice presented to them in the weeks and months to come,” McGowan concluded. “They can either take a clear stand against his agenda of division, bigotry and intolerance, or become complicit in it.”

Todd Cox, the director of policy at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the administration’s choice of appointees to the federal bench threaten the very foundations of civil rights case law in this country and “demonstrate a breathtaking hostility” towards equal justice.

“President Trump is reshaping the federal courts to enable and lock in his retrograde, discriminatory agenda,” Cox said on the conference call. “In August of last year, congressional leaders from across the ideological spectrum were quick to express condemnation of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Now, months later, as they consider and vote on these judicial nominees, senators are faced with an opportunity to forcefully rebuke an extremist ideology they supposedly despise, and require that these nominees respect, and are committed to the rule of law on, civil rights.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which has been outspoken in sounding the alarm on Senate Republicans’ attempts to “ram through” controversial judicial nominations and approve them on party-line votes, criticized the president and those advising him for their court-packing scheme. 

“President Trump may tout his record on judicial nominations, but it’s not one he should be proud of,” Kristine Lucius, the executive vice president for policy at The Leadership Conference, said in a statement. “He and Leader McConnell have overly politicized the process, putting in place judges who lack the temperament and qualifications to serve fairly and without bias. The rubber stamping of judges who are hand-picked by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society will remake the courts in Trump’s image, but ultimately, the Constitution and we the people will suffer.”

The advocates pointed to specific nominations by the president to the federal courts, noting that even though Jeff Mateer — who became infamous for a videotaped speech in which he called transgender children “part of Satan’s plan” — had his nomination withdrawn, others, including some whose qualifications or temperament raised questions about their ability to serve as judges, were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Thomas Farr, David Stras, Matthew Kacsmaryk, and Kyle Duncan. Stras was subsequently confirmed by the full Senate, 57-41, on Monday.

The full Senate even recently confirmed Leonard Steven Grasz to a seat on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite the fact that he was only the fourth person in history to receive a unanimous “not qualified” designation from the American Bar Association. (None of the others who previously received that rating were ever seated on the federal bench.)

Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, noted that the transgender community is particularly under attack. Some court decisions in recent years have found that gender identity is protected under federal civil rights laws. But by appointing judges who are hostile to the community, the Trump administration could be influencing future decisions involving whether transgender people deserve to be protected under statutes like Title VII or Title IX.

“The Trump administration has been attacking transgender people in visible ways throughout its first year — rolling back guidance on how to treat trans students respectfully, banning open service by trans troops, and releasing a plan to promote discrimination by health care providers, just to name a few,” Keisling said. “But the President has also launched a more insidious attack—packing federal courts with unqualified, biased judges like Kyle Duncan and Matthew Kacsmaryk, who have both said that being transgender is a ‘delusion.’ How can we expect such people to make fair decisions when trans people walk into their courtrooms?

“Over 300 parents of transgender children wrote to the Senate expressing their opposition to Duncan and Kacsmaryk’s confirmations,” Keisling added. “Now the Senate must follow through and vote against these nominees.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com