The Senate side of the U.S. Capitol building – Photo: Scrumshus, via Wikimedia.
A coalition of 29 LGBTQ organizations sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday asking them to not to confirm Leonard Steven Grasz to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Mark Norris to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, both of whose nominations were scheduled to voted upon later that morning.
In the letter, the LGBTQ groups said that Grasz and Norris “demonstrate that their appointments to the bench would cause grave harm to the LGBT community, as well as many other communities who rely on the federal judiciary to administer fair and impartial justice.”
In particular, the groups focused on Grasz’s “long history of targeting LGBTQ people” as director of the board of the Nebraska Family Alliance, an anti-gay conservative advocacy organization, and questioned his fitness for the post, citing a unanimous decision by the American Bar Association to rate him as “not qualified.”
Under Grasz’s leadership, NFA opposed marital rights and benefits for same-sex couples, pushed support for conversion therapy, and spoke out against laws that extended protections against discrimination to LGBTQ people. The groups also point out that at a 2013 convention in Omaha, “Grasz introduced a charter amendment to permit discrimination against LGBT people in employment” and called for legal exemptions from public accommodations laws for people who opposed homosexuality.
When questioned about these views, and whether he could be impartial on cases involving LGBTQ parties, during a Senate Judiciary hearing earlier this month, Grasz refused to make any such vow to act impartially in such cases.
The LGBTQ organizations also criticized Norris, a Tennessee state senator, of pushing legislation that attempts to erode rights LGBTQ people enjoy. Examples include a bill allowing therapists and mental health counselors to discriminate against LGBTQ patients by refusing to treat them, a law pre-empting localities from passing their own comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinances, and even a bill to bar courts from interpreting gender-specific terms like “husband” and “wife” to mean “spouse” when it comes to marital rights.
These actions were enough to prompt the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to write its own letter opposing Norris’s confirmation.
“Mr. Norris’s decade of anti-marriage-equality advocacy and publicly avowed ‘disagreement with the constitutional analysis in Obergefell v. Hodges’ is fundamentally at odds with his duty to faithfully apply Obergefell if he becomes a federal judge,” the letter to the Judiciary Committee reads. “Through his words and actions, Mr. Norris has left no doubt that he would seek to restrict and roll back Obergefell and other constitutional precedents protecting the liberty, equality, and dignity of LGBT people.”
The Judiciary Committee placed the names of James Ho and Don Willett, two nominees for vacancies on the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on its agenda for Thursday, but did not hold a vote on either nomination. A coalition of civil rights organizations had previously aligned itself publicly against Willett’s confirmation, accusing him of being unable to ignore his own political biases when issuing rulings as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee eventually decided to delay votes on the Grasz’s nomination after Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) requested another week to review new responses to the committee regarding more information on Grasz’s ABA rating and allegations that he had once leaked confidential information in order to influence the outcome of a state-level judicial nominating process. Grasz has denied that he has done anything wrong in that case, saying he was allowed to release the information under Nebraska law, according to the Omaha World-Herald.