Mark Norris: TFW Your Anti-LGBTQ Record Is Worse Than Most Other Trump Nominees

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November 1, 2017
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Photo by: Gage Skidmore

It’s quite a remarkable feat — standing out for your anti-LGBT record among Donald Trump’s judicial nominees. Yet it’s a feat that Mark Norris accomplishes with ease.

Mr. Norris is Trump’s nominee to the District Court for the Western District of Tennessee; he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning.

While his broader anti-civil rights record is so voluminous that it took the Alliance for Justice nearly 20 pages to summarize it, we briefly describe the lengths to which Mr. Norris has gone to oppose the basic civil rights of LGBT people.   

Mark Norris has made it easier to discriminate against LGBT people.

Mr. Norris has supported several pieces of legislation that seek to privilege and protect those who seek discriminate against LGBT people.

  • In 2011, after Nashville enacted an ordinance prohibiting city contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, he supported legislation that prohibits cities from protecting gay and lesbian Tennesseans from discrimination.
  • In 2016, he supported legislation, S.B. 1556, that allows mental health counselors to discriminate against LGBTQ clients—what American Counseling Association (ACA) dubbed the “Hate Bill 1840.” The ACA’s CEO said that “of all of the state legislation I have seen passed in my 30 years with ACA, the new Tennessee law based on Senate Bill 1556/House Bill 1840 is by far the worst.”
  • In 2017, he supported legislation, S.B. 127, that prohibits any government from taking “discriminatory action” against a business based on its internal policies, including personnel and employee benefit policies.
  • In 2017, he also endorsed legislation, which became known as the “LGBTQ Erasure Bill”, that “attempt[ed] to undermine the impact of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling by requiring courts and federal agencies to apply a plain meaning interpretation of gendered statutory language, including those involving the rights of husbands and wives.”

Nowhere does Mr. Norris recognize how these laws harm members of the LGBTQ community. As we explain in our case Barber v. Bryant, by bestowing legal privileges on those who would discriminate against members of the targeted groups, these laws “stigmatiz[e] members of the[se] disfavored group[s] as ‘innately inferior’ and therefore as less worthy participants in the political community,” Heckler v. Mathews, 465 U.S. 728, 739 (1984). And they also make it “more difficult for” particular “group[s] of citizens than for all others to seek aid from the government,” Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. at 633.

He even enabled discrimination against LGBTQ youth.

Mr. Norris has taken special steps to diminish the rights and safety of LGBTQ youth.

  • In 2011, he supported S.B. 49, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The bill, which passed the State Senate, sought to prohibit teachers from providing any information about homosexuality to public school students.
  • He also opposed the Obama Administration’s 2016 Title IX guidance regarding the rights of transgender students, and encouraged Tennessee to sue the Obama Administration, which he said was taking a “reckless post-constitutional approach to our government.” In a separate statement, he declared his commitment to “mak[ing] sure that nothing will be done to give this ‘guidance’ any effect.”

Human Rights Watch has found that laws like the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” discourage school personnel from intervening to stop bullying and harassment, deter teachers from providing basic information, and limit students’ ability to form and organize LGBT groups. Did Mr. Norris take these harms on LGBTQ youth into account when he supported the bill? 

And why was Mr. Norris so adamant about “mak[ing] sure that nothing will be done to give this ‘guidance’ any effect”? Does he agree with the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the guidance? Will he be another rubber stamp for Trump’s anti-LGBT agenda

And he’s yet another Trump nominee against marriage equality.

Mr. Norris has repeatedly tried to defeat marriage equality, at first by attempting to use and later by challenging federal law.

  • In 2008, after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in the state, he co-sponsored a joint resolution urging the United States Congress to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would define marriage exclusively as the “union of a man and a woman.”
  • After the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges recognized marriage equality as the law of the land, he supported a resolution of the Tennessee General Assembly “express[ing] its disagreement with the constitutional analysis in Obergefell v. Hodges and the judicial imposition of a marriage license law that is contrary to the express will of this body and the vote of the people of Tennessee.”

How does he intend to reconcile his avowed “disagreement with the constitutional analysis in Obergefell v. Hodges” with his duty to faithfully apply Obergefell if he becomes a federal judge?

And given all he has said and done to diminish LGBT rights, how are members of the LGBT community and other vulnerable groups supposed to trust him to be impartial and without bias or prejudice?

At a moment when basic democratic principles and civil rights under attack, Mark Norris is not the kind of judge that this country wants, needs or deserves.