Metro Weekly

White House withdraws Jeff Mateer nomination, but Senate confirms Don Willett

Despite defeat of Mateer, civil rights advocates call out attempts to stack court with right-wing, anti-LGBTQ judges

Jeff Mateer – Photo: “The Church and Homosexuality,” via Vimeo.

Following a request by the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the White House has agreed to withdraw its backing of two controversial judicial nominees, including Jeff Mateer, the Texas lawyer who came under fire for calling transgender children part of “Satan’s plan.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) previously advised President Trump not to move forward with the nominations of Mateer and Brett Talley, a nominee for a federal judgeship in Alabama who failed to disclose that his wife works in the Trump White House and wrote a comment on a blog defending the early Ku Klux Klan. A White House aide later confirmed that the two men’s nominations would “not be moving forward,” reports The Dallas Morning News.

Mateer, who serves as first assistant to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, was nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in September. But he soon came under fire after comments he made in several speeches about LGBTQ people came to light. Among other things, Mateer has advocated for bills that allow people to discriminate against LGBTQ people, expressed support for conversion therapy, and decried both same-sex marriage and transgender rights.

Mateer also received criticism from some Republicans, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, for failing to disclose the speeches and the fact they were captured on video to the judicial evaluation committee after he was first nominated by President Trump.

Civil rights and LGBTQ advocates celebrated the defeat of Mateer, whom they felt could not be impartial when it came to cases involving LGBTQ plaintiffs or defendants that might come before his court.

“Jeff Mateer’s extreme rhetoric and hateful comments are disqualifying for any public official and should have prevented Donald Trump from nominating him to begin with,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “We thank the Senators who expressed concern about this dnagerous nominee and the many supporters who joined us to #StopJeffMateer. We will continue to fight back against the Trump-Pence administration’s attempt to appoint extremists across our judicial system and roll back our progress towards equality.”

“Jeffrey Mateer should not serve as a federal judge, and we welcome the decision not to move forward on his nomination,” Vanita Gupta, the president and CEO of of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. “He failed to disclose to the Senate outrageous comments demonstrating clear bias. As is widely known, Mateer described transgender children as proof of ‘Satan’s plan.’ He also blasted efforts to prevent gay conversion therapy, a practice that groups like the American Pediatric Association and American Psychiatric Association have said is mentally harmful. Such a person is not worthy of a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary.”

Gupta also chastised Senate Republicans for attempting to approve as many right-wing judicial nominees as possible, often without careful vetting, as in the cases of Mateer and Talley.

“Instead of continuing their rush to pack the courts, President Trump, Leader McConnell, and Chairman Grassley must engage in a more deliberative process and move forward on nominees who will rule fairly,” Gupta said. “The people place incredible trust in our federal judiciary, and only those worthy of that awesome responsibility should be confirmed.”

Don Willett – Photo: Gage Skidmore.

But Gupta criticized the Senate for voting to confirm former Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet to a lifetime appointment on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, noting that Willett has pushed a “right-wing agenda throughout his career, both on and off the bench.” The Senate approved the nomination on a party-line vote, 50-47.

“Don Willett has expressed antipathy to women’s rights in the workplace, and his confirmation to the powerful federal court of appeals is an affront to equal dignity for women, especially at this moment in history,” she said. “He has a clear conservative bias and a disturbing record not only on sex discrimination, but also on LGBTQ rights, voting rights, equal opportunity, and affirmative action.”

Lambda Legal, which opposed both Mateer and Talley’s nominations, celebrated the White House’s decision to withdraw them. But Lambda Legal also decried several other judicial nominations, including those of Willett, Matthew Kacsmaryk, who has been nominated to the U.S. District Court fr the Northern District of Texas, Leonard Steven Grasz, nominated to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and James Ho, nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grasz was approved on a party-line vote, 50-48, while Ho was confirmed 53-43, with three Democrats voting for his nomination. Kacsmaryk’s nomination is expected to be voted on in the coming days.

Leonard Steven Grasz – Photo: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, via YouTube.

“While the rest of the country is taking a stand against hate, fear, and division, the United States Senate continues to endorses it,” Sharon McGowan, Lambda Legal’s director of strategy, said in a statement. “The Senate is simply rubber stamping nominees and giving license to Donald Trump’s interest in stacking the federal bench with extremist nominees, rather than safeguarding the access to justice for all those in this country who rely on a fair and impartial judiciary to protect their basic rights.

“[O]ur work is far from done, and we will continue to put a spotlight on the records of Trump nominees who have been selected not merely in spite of, but rather because of their anti-LGBT and anti-civil rights pedigrees,” McGowan continued.

“Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee continued moving forward with the nomination of Matthew Kacsmaryk, who is the former boss of fellow anti-LGBT activist and nominee Jeff Mateer, who is notorious for publicly calling transgender children a part of ‘Satan’s plan,'” McGowan added. “Senators should not be fooled: while Mateer was caught on video, Kacsmaryk is as bad as Mateer, if not worse, as are many of Trump’s nominees. We all deserve better.”

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