Donald Trump's stacking of the federal courts with far-right judges has hit at least a small speed bump, with the withdawal of two nominations Wednesday — but other problematic nominations are proceeding.
Two of Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees, including one who said transgender children are the work of Satan, won’t be confirmed by the Senate, Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said Wednesday.
Grassley, an Iowa Republican, told The Washington Post that he had discussed the nominations of Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley with White House aides, and now the nominees will not go through the confirmation process. His remarks came a day after he had recommended that they be reconsidered, and the White House has confirmed that they will not go forward.
Mateer, who was nominated to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, has called transgender children part of “Satan’s plan,” supported so-called conversion therapy, and said marriage equality will lead to polygamy, bestiality, and people marrying inanimate objects. He made the comments in speeches in 2015, and they were uncovered by a CNN investigation this fall. He is currently Texas’s first assistant attorney general, and he previously worked for First Liberty Institute, a right-wing legal group. He had yet to be considered by the Judiciary Committee.
The Human Rights Campaign praised the derailment of Mateer's nomination. “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,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in a press release. “We thank the senators who expressed concern about this dangerous 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.”
Talley was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. He is a Justice Department lawyer who has never tried a case — he is better known as a writer of horror novels and a ghost-hunter — and he was rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Despite this, he was approved by the Judiciary Committee.
What has now killed his nomination, though, is the revelation that he once made an online comment defending the early Ku Klux Klan, founded shortly after the Civil War to carry out a violent campaign to keep newly freed African-Americans from exercising their rights. He has made other incendiary remarks as well, such as saying after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that the U.S. needed “to stop being a nation of pansies and man up,” according to HuffPost. He also failed to disclose to the Senate that he is married to Ann Donaldson, chief of staff to While House counsel Don McGahn, something that likely would constitute a conflict of interest.
But other far-right judicial nominees continue to be confirmed by the Senate for lifetime appointments. Senators Wednesday approved the appointment of Don Willett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, covering Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The vote was 50-47, breaking along party lines. A coalition of 35 LGBT groups, led by Lambda Legal, opposed his nomination, saying he is biased against women and LGBT people. He will come to the federal judiciary from the Texas Supreme Court, where he has bragged of being the most conservative member, and he joined in that court’s recent opinion that equal marriage rights don’t necessarily mean equal benefits for public employees. Another right-wing nominee, Steven Grasz, was confirmed Tuesday to the Eighth Circuit appeals court. Grasz, who serves on the board of the anti-LGBT Nebraska Family Alliance, was slo rated “not qualified” by the ABA.
The Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday also held a hearing on the nomination of Matthew Kacsmaryk, an anti-LGBT nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, who is opposed by LGBT groups. He currently works for Mateer’s former employer, First Liberty Institute. And the full Senate is expected to vote Thursday on the nomination of James Ho, another Fifth Circuit nominee, about whom LGBT groups have raised concerns.
The Judiciary Committee needs to “stop being a rubber stamp for each and every one of Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, without a care for how anti-LGBT, anti-women, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, or anti-civil rights their records have been proven,” Sharon McGowan, Lambda Legal’s director of strategy, said in a press release.