Trump's LGBT-Unfriendly Supreme Court Picks

Diane Sykes and Don Willett
Diane Sykes and Don Willett

LGBT Americans have reason to worry about Donald Trump’s list of hypothetical Supreme Court nominees, which includes a judge who tweeted about marrying bacon and one who upheld public funding for student groups that discriminate.

All 11 of Trump’s potential picks, announced today, have solidly conservative judicial records. Not all have ruled in LGBT rights cases, but those who have are largely unsympathetic, and some have the backing of anti-LGBT activists.

Here’s a look at some of Trump’s favorite jurists.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett: He’s definitely one of the more colorful possibilities, as he’s known for his frequent use of Twitter to comment on legal and political matters. In 2015, as the nation was abuzz over the marriage equality case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Willett tweeted the following:

 

 

More recently, he made sport of transgender-inclusive school policies.

 

 

By the way, Willett has also used Twitter to make fun of Trump:

 

 

On Texas’s high court, Willett has not been inclined to recognize same-sex marriage. Last year a Texas judge allowed two women, one with ovarian cancer, to marry before the state’s ban on such unions struck down, and the state Supreme Court dismissed Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to the marriage; Willett dissented. He also dissented from the Texas court’s decision not to take up a case on the validity of a same-sex divorce.

Willett was appointed to the court in 2005 by then-Gov. Rick Perry to fill a vacancy and has been reelected by voters twice. In his 2012 primary, he was endorsed by such religious right types as James Dobson, David Barton, Liberty Institute CEO Kelly Shackelford, and Greg Abbott — then Texas’s attorney general, now its governor.

Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Diane Sykes: Sykes was on a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit that in 2006 affirmed a student group’s right to discriminate against those who engage in “homosexual conduct” but still be recognized as an official campus group and receive public funding. “Subsidized student organizations at public universities are engaged in private speech, not spreading state-endorsed messages,” she wrote in a case involving the Christian Legal Society at Southern Illinois University’s law school. She even suggested the society did not discriminate because the exclusion of gay people was based on conduct, not orientation. Four years later, “the Supreme Court rejected her approach in a similar case,” notes ThinkProgress.  

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras: In 2012, Stras was among the court majority in a case overruling the secretary of state’s assignment of a new title to an anti–marriage equality constitutional amendment going before voters. The original title, chosen by the state legislature, was “Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman.” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie instead selected “Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples,” which legislators thought would make voters more likely to oppose the amendment. Stras and the court majority agreed with the lawmakers, and the title reverted to the original. Minnesota voters ended up rejecting the amendment anyway, and the following year the legislature passed a marriage equality law.

Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge William H. Pryor Jr.: LGBT activists have been wary of Pryor because he filed a friend of the court brief supporting sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, and he “also cast the deciding vote to oppose hearing a challenge to Florida’s law that banned gay people from adopting,” ThinkProgress reports. He has also derided LGBT rights as “political correctness.” But Pryor made a surprisingly inclusive decision in Georgia state employee Vandy Beth Glenn’s discrimination suit in which she claimed she was fired because of her gender transition. He was on a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit that ruled in 2011, “We conclude that a government agent violates the Equal Protection Clause’s prohibition of sex-based discrimination when he or she fires a transgender or transsexual employee because of his or her gender non-conformity.”

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen: The Advocate has not uncovered any major LGBT rights rulings or statements by Larsen, but it’s worth noting that she wrote a glowing remembrance of the late, solidly antigay Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked. She didn’t say she always agreed with him, however. “Like any family, we had our disagreements, both with him and among ourselves,” she wrote of herself and fellow clerks in The New York Times. “We have differing views on law, politics and religion. But I have yet to meet a Scalia clerk who was not grateful to the man who taught us, shaped us, and launched us into our lives in the law. Justice Scalia’s passing leaves a giant void in the court and in the intellectual discourse over the law.”

For the remaining judges on Trump’s list, significant anti-LGBT rulings and comments have yet to surface. They are largely very conservative, though, with records of opposing or at least seeking to limit abortion rights, and seeking to restrict voting rights and workers’ rights. The list includes Judges Steven Colloton and Raymond Gruender of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit; Judge Thomas Hardiman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Judge Raymond Kethledge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; Utah Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee, brother of conservative U.S. Rep. Mike Lee; and Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid. ThinkProgress and MSNBC have analyses of all the potential picks' records.

 

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