By Valerie Ploumpis, National Policy Director
Prodded by President Trump’s frequent exhortations to more quickly move on his judicial nominations, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on four controversial nominees* last week.
One of the four, Leonard Steven Grasz, a nominee to the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and currently senior counsel at Husch Blackwell LLP in Omaha, was unanimously ranked “Not Qualified” by the American Bar Association for “professional competence, integrity and judicial temperament.”
Grasz, former general counsel for the Nebraska Republican Party and legal counsel for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, serves on the virulently anti-LGBTQ Nebraska Family Alliance’s board of directors. The organization, affiliated with Focus on the Family and which employs Grasz’s son as its Policy Director, maintains that bans on conversion therapy “trample on parental rights and decrease options for young people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.”
As an attorney, Grasz fought Obergefell v. Hodges, arguing that only the parenting of a mother and a father “provides children with the optimal environment for their cognitive, social, and emotional development from infancy through adolescence.” In other cases, he has argued that sexual orientation and gender identity are “unfit” to be added to the list of protected classes.
In his role as Chief Deputy Attorney General of Nebraska, Grasz wrote opinions defending laws that prohibited the use of state-funded grants to organizations that provide abortion-related services (which he calls “infanticide”), and banned the use of tissue and organs from aborted fetuses for research. His office also fought the federal mandate requiring public financing for abortions for low-income patients – even those who are victims of rape and incest.
Another four nominees were just confirmed to lifetime positions on appeal courts – Amy Barrett, Joan Larsen, Allison Eid and Stephanos Bibas, a candidate who suggested medieval criminal justice for many crimes: ‘the default punishment should be non-disfiguring corporal punishment, such as electric shocks’ and for ‘putting offenders in the stocks or pillory, where they would sit or stand for hours bent in uncomfortable positions. Bystanders and victims could jeer and pelt them with rotten eggs and tomatoes (but not rocks).’
Some 50 lifetime appointments are in the balance, and the Republican-controlled Senate has expressed its intention to expedite consideration of many more in coming weeks. One of the most anti-LGBTQ nominees in the pipeline is Jeff Mateer, whose Senate confirmation hearing for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas is expected later this month.
Mateer has made comments that are as breathtakingly hateful as injudicious. In a speech posted to Vimeo in 2015, Mateer, the first assistant attorney general of Texas, and formerly general counsel of the First Liberty Institute, opined on accommodations for trans students.
“In Colorado, a public school has been sued because a first grader and I forget the sex, she’s a girl who thinks she’s a boy or a boy who thinks she’s a girl, it’s probably that, a boy who thinks she’s a girl. And the school said, ‘Well, she’s not using the girl’s restroom.’ And so she has now sued to have a right to go in. Now, I submit to you, a parent of three children who are now young adults, a first grader really knows what their sexual identity? I mean it just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.”
In the same video, Mateer’s thoughts then veered to marriage equality, which had recently legalized by the US Supreme Court. “”And actually in the arguments Chief Justice Roberts, who’s in the center there said, I mean, what is the limiting? Why couldn’t four 4 people wanna get married? Why not one man and three women? Or three women and one man?” He continued, “I mean, it’s disgusting. I’ve learned words I didn’t know. I mean, have you ever heard the word ‘throuple’?’ So that’s three people coming together of different sexes, maybe mixed sexes. Them coming together. There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like — you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh yes it is. We’re back to that time where debauchery rules.”
And, in a series of radio interviews, Mateer seemed caught up in conspiracy theories about anti-Christian persecution, comparing the treatment of Christians in the United States to that of Nazi Germany. Speaking of then-Mayor of Houston Annise Parker, an open lesbian, Mateer said, “the first thing they want to do is they go after the pastors, they go after their sermons. I do know it happened in the 1930s and 1940s in Nazi Germany. It happened in Stalinist Russia, and it happened in Maoist China. Totalitarian governments often want to censor and silence pastors, and that’s exactly what the mayor of Houston, she’s in that company, when she makes this type of affront on religious liberty.”
Confronted with these bizarre public statements, even Mateer’s home-state Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) expressed unease.
Being voted on next week is Gregory Katsas, who currently serves as Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel, and is a nominee for the influential U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Few people are more aligned with the hard-right views of the White House, as demonstrated by Katsas’s intimate connection with all of Trump’s controversial legal issues including the Muslim ban, the Executive Order on expanded religious liberties, the pardon of the racist Arizona Sheriff Arpaio, the decision to roll back DACA, and a wide range of attacks on civil rights, the environment, healthcare, and LGBTQ rights.
To date, Trump has secured the confirmation of eight of his circuit court picks and is near-certain to get dozens more conservative extremists onto benches around the country. Equality California is extremely concerned these lifetime appointments of people whose views and judicial records do not reflect the composition of the United States and are unworthy to judge others. We have expressed our strong disapproval to three particularly anti-LGBTQ candidates and have asked California’s senior Senator Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to push back hard on these far-right judicial nominees.
* Leonard Steven Grasz-United States Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit, Terry A. Doughty-United States District Judge for the Western District of Louisiana, Terry Fitzgerald Moorer-United States District Judge for the Southern District of Alabama, and Mark Saalfield Norris-United States District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee