Metro Weekly

LGBTQ and civil rights groups warn against confirming two more anti-gay federal judges

Judiciary Chairman pushes through nominations of two Ohioans over objections of Sen. Sherrod Brown

Photo: Blogtrepreneur, via Wikimedia.

A coalition of 27 LGBTQ civil rights organizations is warning that, yet again, the Senate stands poised to confirm two judges with a history of anti-LGBTQ animus.

The coalition wrote a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last week asking the committee to reject the nominations of Eric Murphy and Chad Readler to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both men were granted a confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

“The records of these two nominees, particularly with respect to civil rights issues, reflect a deep hostility to the principles of equality, liberty, justice and dignity under the law for LGBT Americans, among others,” the coalition wrote in its letter. “Accordingly, we do not believe these nominees will provide impartial justice to LGBT people and their families, and therefore urge you to oppose their nominations.”

Murphy, one of the key lawyers who argued in favor of upholding Ohio and Michigan’s bans on same-sex marriage, served as counsel of record in the case that became known as Obergefell v. Hodges, even filing a brief with the high court that called same-sex marriages “disruptive…to our constitutional democracy.”

“It is impossible to believe that Mr. Murphy would have devoted so much of his career to arguing that same-sex couples are inferior to different-sex couples and that their marriages would be ‘disruptive’ to our democracy if he did not passionately believe that to be the case,” the coalition wrote in its letter. “It is equally unlikely that any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person could be confident that they would receive equal justice under the law in Mr. Murphy’s courtroom.”

In addition to his views on LGBTQ issues, Murphy’s nomination is also concerning because of his work defending Ohio’s practice of purging voters from state rolls if they had not voted in the past two years. 

Readler, the principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, has worked behind the scenes pushing some of the Trump administration’s most anti-LGBTQ actions, including arguing that protections against sex-based discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 do not apply to cases, such as Zarda v. Altitude Express, where people are fired or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

Readler also took the side of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who sought a religious exemption from Colorado’s civil rights law that would allow him to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Readler has also raised alarms among civil rights advocates because of his support for permanently rescinding the DACA program, his defense of the “travel ban” targeting people from particular Muslim-majority nations, and a brief he filed arguing that the passage of President Trump’s signature tax cut has invalidated provisions in the Affordable Care Act that prevent insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charging them more.

Due to those concerns, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) announced his opposition to both Murphy and Readler and refused to return a “blue slip,” signifying a senator’s support from a judicial nominee who hails from the state they represent.

Historically, senators’ refusal to return a blue slip would have been honored and a nomination would not have been brought forward. But Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has chosen to ignore senators’ refusal to return a blue slip at least six times over the past year, with Murphy and Readler being the latest nominees to be shoved towards confirmation despite objections from a home-state senator.

“Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has once again insisted on noticing a hearing for another pair of aspiring circuit court judges, despite the objection of home-state Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has refused to return a ‘blue slip’ for either of these dangerous nominees,” Sharon McGowan, the chief strategy officer and legal director at Lambda Legal, one of the organizations leading the coalition, said in a statement.

“Rather than opting for individuals who could have easily garnered bipartisan support, Senate Republicans are continuing to endorse and enable the divisive tactics of this White House,” she added. “We urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject these nominations to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, as their confirmation would cause grave harm to LGBT people, as well as to all members of communities who rely on the federal judiciary of the United States to administer fair and impartial justice.”

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