William Barr, Donald Trump’s new nominee for attorney general, has expressed deeply anti-LGBTQ views that are right up there with those of his predecessor, Jeff Sessions.
Trump this morning announced his intention to nominate Barr to the position, saying he’s “one of the most respected jurists in the country,” NBC News reports. Barr was attorney general from 1991 to 1993, under President George H.W. Bush, and was a deputy and an assistant attorney general before that. He also worked in the CIA and the Reagan White House early in his career. More recently he has been a corporate lawyer for GTE and Verizon, and with the prominent law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in its Washington, D.C., office.
But Barr has made many deeply homophobic statements, which have been compiled by GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project. In a 1995 article, reprinted in 2017, for a journal called The Catholic Lawyer, he contended that advances in LGBTQ rights are marginalizing people of faith.
“It is no accident that the homosexual movement, at one or two percent of the population, gets treated with such solicitude while the Catholic population, which is over a quarter of the country, is given the back of the hand,” he wrote. “How has that come to be?” By Catholics adopting “secular” values, he said.
He also decried “the effort to apply District of Columbia law to compel Georgetown University to treat homosexual activist groups like any other student group. This kind of law dissolves any form of moral consensus in society. There can be no consensus based on moral views in the country, only enforced neutrality.”
He has invoked the theme of neutrality undermining morality on several occasions. In a speech in Milwaukee in 1992, he said public schools have undergone a “moral lobotomy” due to “extremist notions of separation of church and state” and “theories of moral relativism.” He made similar statements in numerous other speeches in the early 1990s.
“William Barr, who has wrongfully suggested that LGBTQ people – not Trump and his destructive policies – have harmed the United States, is the latest in a long line of replacements who President Trump has appointed to his Cabinet who are just as anti-LGBTQ as their predecessors,” said a statement issued by Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. “If confirmed, there’s little doubt that William Barr would continue the Trump administration’s objective of erasing LGBTQ Americans from the fabric of this nation.”
The Human Rights Campaign also issued a statement expressing concern about Barr. "The Trump-Pence White House and the Justice Department have been pursuing a policy agenda to undermine the legal rights of LGBTQ people since day one," said HRC director of government affairs David Stacy. "From his views around HIV/AIDS during his tenure as attorney general to his more recent writing promoting extreme views around religious exemptions, William Barr looks ill suited to be our country's top law enforcement officer. The Senate has a solemn responsibility to advise and consent on this important nomination and his troubling views on LGBTQ equality and the law must be thoroughly vetted."
As Bush's AG in the 1990s, Barr had advocated for keeping HIV-positive Haitian asylum-seekers out of the U.S.
On other civil liberties issues, during a Senate confirmation hearing for his first nomination as attorney general in 1991, he said he didn’t think the right to privacy extended to abortion.
He further appears to be the kind of loyalist Trump is looking for. He has been critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Since several of the lawyers on Mueller’s team have contributed to Democratic candidates, they may have a partisan bias, he told The Washington Post. Trump, meanwhile, had blasted Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation.
Barr praised then-FBI director James Comey’s decision to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of State, something that was announced just before the 2016 election. But he also praised Trump’s decision to fire Comey in May 2017, with the caveat that it was acceptable only if it came because of Comey’s behavior, not because of the Russia investigation. But the firing was widely seen as an attempt to undermine the investigation, and Trump even admitted as much in an interview with NBC anchor Lester Holt.
Barr's overall record alarmed the American Civil Liberties Union. Faiz Shakir, the ACLU's national political director, released this statement: “William Barr’s record suggests that he will follow Jeff Sessions’ legacy of hostility to civil rights and civil liberties. If confirmed, Trump will have a partner in one of the most powerful roles of the administration, and someone who defended the president’s decision to fire James Comey. The Senate must press Barr to adhere to the obligation of the Justice Department to defend the rights of all – immigrants, women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities. Barr must commit to defending the rule of law and civil rights, not serving as a political arm of Trump’s anti-constitutional agenda.”
Barr’s nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. Matthew Whitaker, who has ties to homophobic politicians, has been acting attorney general since Trump demanded and received Sessions’s resignation last month.