Lambda Legal: Senate GOP Leaders Attempting to Jam through Anti-Civil Rights Judicial Nominees While No One is Looking

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Lambda Legal Urges Senators on the Judiciary Committee to Oppose Trump’s Plan to Pack the Courts with Judges Who Oppose LGBT Civil Rights.
January 17, 2018

This week, under the shadow of a looming government shutdown, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on a slate of 17 of Trump’s judicial nominees, along with a number of other controversial executive branch nominees. Among the group of judicial nominees on the agenda for tomorrow are five men who have spent their careers working to undermine civil rights, especially for LGBT Americans: Kyle Duncan to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals; Supreme Court “short-lister” David Stras to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals; Matthew Kacsmaryk to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas; Thomas Farr to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina; and Mark Norris to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. Lambda Legal expects Senate Majority Leader McConnell to move quickly to try and confirm more of these controversial nominees while the attention of Senators and the nation is focused elsewhere. Lambda Legal is urging senators on the committee to oppose these nominations before Leader McConnell rushes them to the Senate floor and carries out Trump’s plan to pack the court judges who won’t protect LGBT rights, relationships, and families.

According to a widely-cited analysis by Lambda Legal, the Trump Administration is attempting to pack the courts, at an alarming rate, with judges who oppose civil rights for LGBT Americans. Nearly 1 in 3 judicial nominees have explicitly anti-LGBT records, so failing to stop these nominees will result in federal courts growing increasingly hostile toward LGBT rights during Trump’s presidency and long after he has vacated the White House. The breakneck pace with which the Senate is confirming Trump’s judges is also striking, especially when compared with past administrations. In his first year alone, the analysis indicates President Trump has secured confirmations for 12 circuit court judges, which is more than the combined number of circuit court judges confirmed by Presidents Barack Obama (3), George W. Bush (5), and Bill Clinton (3) during their first year in office. Trump has also secured confirmations for 6 district court judges and a Supreme Court justice. The impact that this will have on the LGBT community will be felt for generations to come.

“It is disgraceful that, as the nation teeters on the brink of a government shutdown, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley is forcing a vote on almost two dozen nominees, including a number of highly controversial judicial nominees who are being considered for lifetime appointments to the federal bench,” said Sharon McGowan, Director of Strategy at Lambda Legal. “It is the height of cynicism for Senators to be forcing a vote on these nominees at a time when millions of families are worrying about essential government services being cut off at the end of this week, and suffering in other ways as a result of Washington’s divisiveness and dysfunction. 

"Chairman Grassley and Leader McConnell have discarded longstanding traditions and safeguards in order to jam these nominees through while no one is looking, and Lambda Legal is here to say: enough is enough. The failed nominations of Jeff Mateer, Brett Talley and Matthew Peterson should have sent a clear message that more time – not less – is needed to scrutinize the records of these potential lifetime appointees.  Moreover, there are two new members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris – who deserve a chance to question these nominees during new hearings before any votes are cast.

“The courts play an essential role in protecting those most vulnerable in this country, and the process to appoint new judges should not be rushed. Senators who simply roll over and allow Donald Trump to pack the courts with lifetime appointees who oppose civil rights and who have often spent their careers seeking to undermine LGBT rights, are ignoring their constitutional duty to provide advice and consent in the process. We demand better, and deserve better from our Senators.”

More information from Lambda Legal about these nominees can be found at: Kyle Duncan – Nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)

  • Lambda Legal has highlighted Duncan’s numerous attacks on LGBT people and transgender Americans specifically in his defense of the North Carolina legislatures who passed the notorious transgender bathroom ban (HB2), and his defense of the school district that targeted Gavin Grimm, a transgender student. Throughout his argument, he routinely peddled hate-mongering language about transgender people, including filing “expert declarations on behalf of the legislators that relied upon ‘junk science’ that described transgender people as delusional (arguing, in essence, that transgender people do not exist) and advocating that parents should discourage ‘transgender persistence.’”

David Stras – Nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)

  • Lambda Legal has raised concerns about Stras’ willingness to comply with rulings in many of the Supreme Court’s landmark LGBT Rights decisions after he suggested that U.S. Supreme Court inappropriately “ventured” into addressing constitutional issues regarding marriage equality, dismissing constitutional protections for LGBT people as “social policy.”

Matthew Kacsmaryk – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas

  • Lambda Legal has noted that Kacsmaryk is an anti-LGBT activist who has suggested that transgender people are “delusional” and who “is cut from the same cloth as Mr. Mateer, whose nomination was widely criticized and eventually (and appropriately) withdrawn.”  Throughout his career, Kacsmaryk has routinely tried to advance anti-LGBT causes, including opposing nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people and defending public business owners in picking and choosing their customers. And, in his own writings, he depicted efforts to achieve LGBT civil rights as seeking “public affirmation of the lie that the human person is an autonomous blob of Silly Putty unconstrained by nature or biology, and that marriage, sexuality, gender identity, and even the unborn child must yield to the erotic desires of liberated adults.”

Thomas Farr – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina

  • According to Lambda Legal and Equality NC, Thomas Farr appears to have misled the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about his role in a campaign charged with violating African-American voters’ rights. These reports are particularly troubling in light of Farr’s anti-voting-rights record, which includes defending North Carolina’s law found to “target African Americans with surgical precision.”

Mark Norris – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee

  • Lambda Legal has pointed to Norris’ recent attacks on the LGBT community, including his support in 2016 for legislation allowing mental health counselors to discriminate against LGBT clients, stating that it was “intended to protect the religious liberty of professional counselors.”
  • In 2017, Mr. Norris 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 (the “natural” meaning) of gendered statutory language, including those involving the rights of husbands and wives.
  • Mr. Norris supported preemption legislation that prohibits cities from passing non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

Contact Info

Press contact:  Ian Wilhite, Cell: 202-672-4877: Email:

Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Related Issues: Fair Courts Project