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President Donald Trump’s four years of judicial appointments have shown an alarming radicalization of federal courts and potentially devastating consequences to LGBTQ people, according to a report released Tuesday.
Since Trump took office in January 2017, Lambda Legal, an organization that fights for the civil rights of the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities, has tracked, documented and analyzed how Trump’s reshaping of the courts would impact the lives of those groups.
The Trump/Pence administration — ideologically backed by the ultra-conservative organization The Federalist Society, and aided by a Republican-majority Senate — was able to confirm a shocking number of appellate judges who have a history of anti-LGBTQ bias, and also to nominate a staggering number of white male circuit judges — all at a judicial confirmation speed that was “faster than any other president in recent history,” according to Lambda Legal.
“While Donald Trump’s presidency may be coming to end, his devastating impact on our federal courts will take decades to reverse,” Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings told the Daily News in a statement.
“When the basic human rights of LGBTQ+ Americans are so often challenged in court, we cannot accept a judiciary stacked with judges who would disenfranchise these vulnerable groups,” he added.
The report — entitled “Courts, Confirmations, & Consequences: How Trump Restructured the Federal Judiciary and Ushered in a Climate of Unprecedented Hostility toward LGBTQ+ People and Civil Rights” — found that the Trump administration was able to stack the courts with ideologically driven judges who will use their lifetime terms to “further their ultra-conservative policy objectives through the federal court.”
Enabled and emboldened by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, the current administration was able to dramatically change the composition of judicial courts, amid public outcry against some of the nominations.
Nearly 40% of the federal appellate judges appointed by Trump “have a demonstrated history of hostility toward the LGBTQ+ community,” according to report.
In the last four years, Lambda Legal has fiercely opposed 22 out of the 57 circuit court nominees because of their anti-LGBTQ records.
One of them, Andrew Brasher, has argued that LGBTQ+ parents weren’t as ideally suited as “biological parents” to raise children.
“(His) confirmation to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest blow to LGBT people across the country and an affront to civil rights,” Lambda Legal said in a statement on Feb. 11. “In particular, this confirmation threatens civil rights for all LGBT people living in the deep South, as Alabama, Florida and Georgia all lack explicit nondiscrimination protections at the state level.”
Cory Wilson, who was nominated by Trump to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas) on May 4, has supported a law that allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ people and unmarried people if they had a “sincerely held religious belief” when he worked in the Mississippi Legislature.
One other example of a Trump appointee with a strong anti-LGBTQ bias highlighted by the report is Kyle Duncan.
The Trump-nominated judge with a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit “wrote an opinion rejecting the claims of a transgender litigant, and in doing so, repeatedly and deliberately misgendered her.”
Circuit court judges decisions have a profound impact on the everyday lives of Americans, according to Lambda Legal.
The U.S. Supreme Court — also dramatically and hurriedly tilted to the right during the current administration — takes up around one hundred cases a year. Circuit courts, on the other hand, take up tens of thousands of appeals every year, “effectively making them the courts of last resort for the vast majority of litigants.”
About 85% of Trump’s circuit court nominees are or have been affiliated with the Federalist Society, which Lambda Legal describes as “an activist organization that advocates for a deeply conservative reading of the Constitution, and gives a platform to many anti-LGBTQ+ activists who have argued against marriage equality, fought nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ workers, and sought to strip away parental rights of same-sex parents.”
The report also noted that nearly 85% of all circuit court nominees were white and 80% of them were men, while none of his circuit court nominees were Black, and only two were Latinx.
Lambda Legal also called attention to the speed in which judges were confirmed during the Trump administration: there were 54 circuit court judge confirmations in four years, one less than what the Obama Administration confirmed in eight years.
That is nearly double the number of circuit court judges confirmed during the first term of Presidents Barack Obama (30) and Bill Clinton (30), and more than 50% higher than the number of appellate court confirmations during the first terms of Presidents Ronald Reagan (33) and George W. Bush (35), according to the analysis.
The report should be viewed as a “call to action” for the upcoming administration, according to Jennings.
“To reverse the damage done by the outgoing administration, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris must commit to ensuring future nominees respect the dignity of all Americans, including those in the LGBTQ+ community,” he added.