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As We Celebrate Pride, Trump Packs the Courts With People Who Hate Us

Mark Norris

Here's how you can fight back.

It is a cruel irony that as millions of people flood America's streets to celebrate Pride Month, Senate Republicans are packing our nation's federal courts with lifetime judicial appointees who would deny civil rights, legal protections, and basic dignity to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Pride Month -- honored worldwide -- has so far gone ignored by the Trump White House. Its silence would be offensive enough. But to add insult to injury, the administration has unleashed a barrage of fresh attacks on LGBTQ people.

Nowhere is President Trump cementing lasting hostility to the LGBTQ community more so than the federal courts. By the end of 2017, the civil rights group Lambda Legal found that one in three of the president's judicial nominees touted records of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions.

In June alone, the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted -- or is prepared to vote -- on seven nominees with shameful anti-LGBTQ records: J. Campbell Barker, Ryan Bounds, Andrew Brasher, Britt Grant, David Porter, Allen Winsor, and Patrick Wyrick.

Bounds, whose nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is opposed by both Oregon senators, hid his offensive and intemperate comments about LGBTQ rights from the nominating commission that considered his fitness to serve as a federal judge.

But the president's determination to inject bigotry into the federal bench does not end there. In addition to the seven nominees mentioned, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may call floor votes this month on Matthew Kacsmaryk, Howard Nielson, and Mark Norris -- all of whom have extreme anti-LGBTQ track records.

Kacsmaryk, a culture warrior nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, has challenged the humanity of the LGBTQ community on several occasions. In a 2015 op-ed, Kacsmaryk argued that LGBTQ people live in conflict with "natural law." And he vigorously opposed bipartisan legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2011, after a California district court judge blocked the state from enforcing the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, Nielson, a nominee to the U.S. District Court in Utah, filed a motion to vacate the judgment based on the judge's sexual orientation. His motion was rightfully denied. Later, in a brief filed in the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, Nielson disturbingly insinuated that same-sex couples are incapable of responsible parenting.

And Norris, the majority leader of the Tennessee State Senate and Trump nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, has a similarly shocking record. Norris fought marriage equality and supported legislation that would allow mental health counselors to discriminate against LGBTQ clients. He also supported legislation known as the "don't say gay bill," which would prohibit teachers from providing any information about LGBTQ issues to public school students, as well as legislation that prohibited cities and counties in Tennessee from passing local laws that protected LGBTQ residents from discrimination.

Attempts to undermine the integrity and impartiality of the federal courts -- particularly during Pride Month -- have not gone unnoticed. At a recent Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Sen. Kamala Harris honored Pride Month and spoke out against Trump's judicial nominees with dangerous, anti-LGBTQ records.

"It is a sad truth that showing hostility toward the LGBTQ community is not something that has disqualified individuals from becoming a nominee of this administration," she said.

Mere hours after the committee meeting concluded, Trump announced he would nominate a dozen more people to become federal judges, including Eric Murphy and Chad Readler, both of Ohio, to sit on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Murphy filed a brief against marriage equality in the Obergefell case. Readler defended anti-LGBTQ discrimination in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Every one of these appointments matters. Much of our nation's arduous journey toward justice and equality has been fought and won in the federal courts. Hundreds of thousands of cases are filed in federal courts every year. And a significant number of these cases have direct and lasting impacts on the civil and human rights of people across America. While Supreme Court decisions most often make the headlines, lower courts have the final say in over 99 percent of federal cases.

It is hard to imagine how Trump's cohort of dogmatic nominees -- with their brazen disdain for the LGBTQ community -- could fairly interpret the laws of the land. Their records are an affront to all marginalized communities, and the ripple effects pose catastrophic risks to the foundational pillars of our democracy.

McConnell canceled most of the August recess to continue his reckless push of judicial nominees through the Senate. As Americans celebrate Pride Month and lift up the tremendous strides made in and for the LGBTQ community, we must also keep our attention on the clear and present danger to that progress: Trump's stacking of the courts with right-wing extremists.

Defending the impartiality of the federal bench is an uphill battle. But not a lost one. Last year, the Trump administration withdrew the district court nomination of Jeffrey Mateer -- who described transgender children as proof of "Satan's plan" -- after relentless pressure from the civil rights community.

Let's keep that pressure going. As you honor Pride Month, consider calling your senators and urging them to use their independent power to uphold the integrity of the federal courts and resist the president's efforts to dismantle decades of hard fought victories for LGBTQ people -- and for all people in America.

VANITA GUPTA is the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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