By now, it is no secret that the Trump administration dedicated itself to dismantling civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Whatever promises President Trump may have made as a candidate, his administration has shown contempt for LGBT students, transgender troops, and the entire population of over 10 million LGBT people in this country.
But perhaps the most dangerous attack on transgender people coming from the White House is the least discussed: packing federal courts with judges who have demonstrated a similar hostility towards civil rights for LGBT people and other marginalized groups.
Hundreds of thousands of cases are filed in federal courts every year. Four such cases were filed against the Trump administration last year in the wake of the president’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. So far, the administration is not faring well — four federal judges have temporarily stopped the ban from proceeding — but transgender service members continue to live in uncertainty as the Justice Department continues to defend the ban. This is an example of the federal courts doing their job.
Federal judges are charged with impartially interpreting the law, but President Trump and his chief congressional enabler, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are ramming through a record number of extreme ideologues to lifetime appointments on the federal judiciary. Fully one-third of Trump nominees have anti-LGBT records; here are some examples that starkly illustrate the threat to LGBT people and to civil rights writ large.
Fifth Circuit nominee Stuart Kyle Duncan leads a law firm that has made a boutique practice of smearing LGBT people. His firm has defended states that refuse to list same-sex parents on their children’s birth certificates and the sponsors of North Carolina’s infamous House Bill 2 law. Duncan also continues to represent the Gloucester County, Va., School Board, which forced transgender student Gavin Grimm to use separate restrooms, falsely arguing that equal treatment for transgender students like Gavin is a “threat” to their peers.
Meanwhile, Texas district court nominee Matthew Kacsmaryk has expressed disbelief of the very concept of being transgender, and denounced even the limited LGBT nondiscrimination protections passed in Utah on the ground that any protections whatsoever legitimize LGBT people in society’s eyes.
The full Senate is expected to vote to confirm Duncan and Kacsmaryk in the next couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, other anti-LGBT nominees have already been confirmed. Deputy White House Counsel Greg Katsas — the legal architect of the transgender military ban and adviser on numerous anti–civil rights actions by the Trump White House — was narrowly confirmed to the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals late last year. And Steven Grasz, who wrote that the possibility of Nebraska courts recognizing same-sex marriages performed in Hawaii was a “grave danger,” was confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
LGBT people are not the only ones harmed when these types of nominees are confirmed to federal judgeships. Every day, federal courts make decisions that impact all Americans. From our voting rights, to the safety and fairness of our workplaces, to the quality of the air we breathe, the federal judiciary is the independent guardian of our rights and freedoms. While the Supreme Court usually makes the headlines, the lower courts have the final say in over 99 percent of federal cases.
Federal judges serve for life. President Trump and Republican Senate leaders are rushing to pack the courts with right-wing extremists who will restrict civil rights not just during the Trump administration, but for decades to come. Everyone who cares about our civil and human rights must urge their Senators to stand up to President Trump by exercising their independent role in evaluating each nominee’s fitness to serve impartially and by rejecting his unqualified and bigoted judicial nominees.
KRISTINE LUCIUS is executive vice president for policy at the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States.
HARPER JEAN TOBIN is director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, the nation’s leading social justice advocacy organization winning lifesaving change for transgender people.