By: Valerie Ploumpis, National Policy Director
Undeterred by the unprecedented number of Trump judicial nominees who have been unanimously ranked “Unqualified” by the American Bar Association, or seemingly unembarrassed by the viral video of a candidate for judge who was unable to answer basic legal questions posed during his confirmation hearing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is continuing to ram through a slate of hard-right candidates for lifetime appointments.
Equality California is strongly opposed to one candidate whose confirmation hearing is this week — Howard Nielson, candidate for US District Judge for Utah—who not only represented the proponents of Prop 8, California’s anti-marriage equality ballot measure, but actually filed a motion one year later to vacate the lower court decision that ended the marriage ban. The reason, Nielsen argued, was that the presiding judge, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, should have recused himself because he stood to benefit by the outcome of the litigation because he was gay and in a long term same-sex relationship. Nielsen also authored an amicus brief opposing marriage equality in the Obergefell case.
Other candidates in the confirmation pipeline. Not one is pro-equality, of course, but Equality California and a coalition of other progressive organizations are particularly concerned about three egregious nominees. Arguably the worst is Stuart ‘Kyle’ Duncan, nominee for Court of Appeals for the 5th District who represented North Carolina in the HB2 bathroom case, represented the state of Virginia in the Gavin Grimm case involving a transgender high school student, and fought Obergefell. Matthew Kacsmaryk, candidate for US District Court in Northern Texas, who wrote in 2015 that “the deceptively titled Equality Act…seeks to weaponize Obergefell” and harshly criticized the non-discrimination clause Section 1557 of the ACA. He too also filed an amicus brief in the GG transgender student case. Mark Norris, nominee for the US District Court for Western Tennessee, led the successful legislative effort to nullify a new law in the city of Nashville that sought to penalize companies that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
With both US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris now on the Senate Judiciary Committee, California’s values are well-represented. But even with the recent election of Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), the Senate is firmly in Republican hands (51-49) which means that unfit, unvetted, hard-right judicial candidates will continue to be railroaded through confirmation.