Trump’s Assault on LGBT Rights Continues with Latest Judicial Nominee

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January 10, 2018

Lambda Legal and 15 national, state and local LGBT organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of today’s hearing urging them to oppose the nomination of Howard Nielson to the United States District Court for the District of Utah.

The letter stressed Nielson’s long and active history opposing LGBT civil rights, and his unfounded and degrading attack on the impartiality of a gay judge.

While Mr. Nielson’s attack on the integrity of a federal judge is shocking, this nomination fits the pattern identified by Lambda Legal of President Trump’s push to fill the courts with extremist anti-LGBT judges. 

“Howard Nielson has spent the better half of this decade actively working to discredit and undermine legal protections for LGBT people,” said Sharon McGowan, Director of Strategy at Lambda Legal. “When he couldn’t find a legal ground to stand on, he tried to win by degrading and insulting a federal judge, a strategy from the Trump playbook with which we are now so familiar. While President Trump may think it is perfectly fine to attack federal judges because of their ethnicity or other aspect of their identity, the American people know - and expect the Senate to send a clear message - that such behavior is disqualifying in a nominee for a lifetime appointment as a federal judge."

“These kind of legal tactics move beyond zealous advocacy and call into question Mr. Nielson’s ability to administer impartial justice for the people of Utah," McGowan added. "His underlying animosity towards the LGBT community must not be given the weight and authority of a lifetime appointment to the federal bench where he would surely continue find new ways to usurp protections and civil rights.”

The letter detailed Nielson’s long history of working to undermine LGBT protections, focusing specifically on his offensive attack on U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker after Judge Walker struck down Proposition 8, a ballot measure passed in California in 2008 that denied same-sex couples in the state the right to marry.

The letter cited Nielson’s failed effort to discredit Judge Walker by arguing “the public could not be confident that Judge Walker did not have a direct personal interest in the outcome unless he unequivocally disavowed any interest in marrying his partner,” who was a gay man.

The letter also cited an amicus brief authored by Mr. Nielson that laid out his discriminatory view of LGBT people and specifically, same-sex families. In his brief for Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down state laws denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry, Nielson speciously argued that gays and lesbians should be denied the right to marry because same-sex families are “inferior to heterosexual families.”

The Neilson nomination follows last week’s announcement by the Trump Administration that it plans to resubmit the nominations of 21 Federal judges from last year, many of whom, like Nielson, have proven anti-LGBT records. Senate Republicans are doubling down on this effort by working behind the scenes to change the rules for confirming Trump’s most discriminatory nominees so that the American people have less time to weigh in on these crucial decisions.

Underscoring the significant stakes in place if Mr. Nielson is confirmed to the federal bench, the letter, sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, highlighted Utah’s significant LGBT community with Salt Lake City alone being home to “the seventh highest percentage of adult LGBT people in the country – even larger than New York City.”

The letter was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning ahead of a committee hearing today.