Amid all his anti-LGBT choices for his Cabinet, courts, and federal agencies, Donald Trump has renominated a prominent lesbian activist to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – and he’s getting blowback from the religious right.
The White House this week asked the Senate to confirm Chai Feldblum to a third term on the commission, Newsweek reports. Originally nominated by President Barack Obama, she became a member of the EEOC in 2010 and was reconfirmed for a second term that ends in 2018. One more term would have her serving until 2023, according to Newsweek.
Feldblum was the first out LGBT person to serve on the commission, a federal government agency that issues charges of discrimination and authorizes the filing of discrimination lawsuits. It sometimes differs with other parts of the government – for instance, it still holds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law against sex discrimination, covers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Justice Department, under Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has reversed the stance taken during the Obama administration that Title VII applies in these cases.
Feldblum is “Washington’s strongest champion” for the inclusive interpretation of the law, Bloomberg Businessweek once noted. She has a long record of social justice activism. As a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, she founded its Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic, representing various social justice organizations. She also founded Workplace Flexibility 2010, seeking common ground between employers and employees on workplace flexibility issues.
She has been a prominent figure on Capitol Hill, helping draft the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and its 2008 amendments. She also helped draft the original Employment Non-Discrimination Act. She’s a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer and once clerked for liberal Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.
Her record has made her a target of the far right. Conservative activists objected to her initial nomination, and the Senate at first refused to confirm her, leading Obama to put her on the EEOC via a recess appointment in March 2010. The Senate finally confirmed her in December of that year.
This week, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins wrote in his Washington Update column that Feldblum’s renomination was “a shock to conservatives.” He brought up Feldblum’s stance that “religious liberty” does not include the right to discriminate against LGBT people and her endorsement several years ago of a document that called for recognition of polyamorous relations. She eventually asked for her name to be removed from it. Perkins called her “the worst possible option” for the commission and urged the Trump administration to withdraw her nomination. He allowed that Trump “can't personally oversee the hiring of 4,000 political appointees – which might explain” Feldblum’s renomination.
Paul Mirengoff, writing at a conservative site called PowerLine, speculated that Trump renominated her as part of a deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He noted that no more than three of the EEOC’s five commissioners (one seat is vacant at the moment) can be from the same political party, “but nothing requires that any of the five be hard-left Dems who push a radical LGBT agenda.”
The White House had no immediate comment on Feldblum’s renomination, and the EEOC declined comment to Newsweek. Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow praised Feldblum in a Newsweek interview.
Feldblum has “made decisions, along with many other commissioners, including Republican appointees, about the ways in which sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under our nation’s sex nondiscrimination laws,” Warbelow said, and indeed, some federal courts have agreed. Warbelow added, “She’s well respected across the board , and I think any president is well advised to choose someone who has gained such a broad respect from such a broad number of people.”