Tracking the latest developments in the fight for a fair America
It is no secret that Donald Trump has contempt for Americans with disabilities.
Trump famously mocked a reporter with a disability. His Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, made clear at her confirmation hearing that she did not understand the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). As a senator, Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, attacked the IDEA, blaming the law for the “decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.” When he became Attorney General Sessions promptly dropped the Justice Department’s appeal of a key disability rights lawsuit. He also filed a brief that would severely limit the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by narrowing the meaning of “public accommodation;” and he rescinded 10 guidance regulations on disability rights, one of which had “codified the labor rights of disabled people as they move from sheltered workshops paying sub-minimum wage[s] into the integrated economy.” Read more
“This is a break from the bipartisan tradition that we do not hold lawyers accountable for the clients they represent and any animus one may harbor against them.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, supporting President Trump’s nomination of Thomas Farr to the Eastern District of North Carolina
“Some of my colleagues have argued that we should not consider this aspect of [Caitlin] Halligan’s record, because at the time she was working as the Solicitor General of New York. But, no one forced Ms. Halligan to approve and sign this brief.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, opposing President Obama’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the D.C. Circuit.
“I remain concerned with Mr. Adegbile’s ability to set aside more than a decade of advocacy on behalf of this and other liberal causes to serve as a neutral enforcer of our Nation’s civil rights laws.”
Sen. Jeff Flake opposing President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.
What a difference a year makes. After twelve months of Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley’s rubber-stamping of Trump judicial nominees, it is clear that Republicans believe there is one set of rules for Obama nominees and another set for Trump nominees. Under Obama, Republicans vigorously fought for the rights of home-state senators, extensively used the blue slip to block nominees, refused to consider nominees that had admitted to ever using marijuana, required the Office of Legal Counsel to disclose opinions written by nominees before their confirmation, and insisted on multiple hearings for certain nominees. Under Trump, Grassley quickly discarded all of these traditions and requirements. Read more
On September 28, 2017, President Trump nominated Ryan Holte to the United States Court of Federal Claims. Holte joins a string of Trump judicial nominees whose youth and inexperience are especially striking. Notably, the nomination of another recent judicial candidate who had never tried a case, Brett Talley, was sidelined when his lack of qualifications was widely derided on the Hill and in the press. Holte’s fate will soon be decided.
Like Talley, Holte is in his mid-thirties: 34, as of this writing. He graduated from law school less than ten years ago, and has openly admitted, “I have not tried a case.” Nominations to the Court of Federal Claims are not evaluated by the American Bar Association; however, if they were, Holte would be immediately deemed unqualified on the basis of his lack of experience.
Holte’s lack of experience is even more notable given the White House’s own claims about its judicial nominations. In response to reports that President Trump has nominated the fewest women to the federal bench in recent history, the Chicago Tribune reported that “White House spokesman Hogan Gidley says Trump is focused on qualifications and suggests that prioritizing diversity would bring politics to the bench.” Holte’s nomination stands in sharp contrast to this claim, and suggests the opposite: that the White House is in fact prioritizing ideology over credentials – while it continues to place candidates who are predominantly white men on the bench. Read more
On September 29, 2017, President Trump nominated Howard C. Nielson to the United States District Court for the District of Utah. Nielson’s nomination continues Trump’s trend of offering lifetime appointments to ideological attorneys and judges.
Alarmingly, Nielson shares with Trump a propensity for attacking judges’ integrity based on personal characteristics. During the presidential campaign, Trump attacked federal judge Gonzalo Curiel and said the judge should recuse himself from a case solely because of his “Mexican heritage.” Just like Trump, Howard Nielson, in taking a leading role in the effort to prohibit same-sex marriage in California, argued that a federal judge should be disqualified from hearing the case solely because he was gay.
President Trump and Nielson also share records of attacking the independence of the Justice Department. President Trump has demanded loyalty from the FBI Director, politicized prosecutorial decisions, and tried to purge non-political law enforcement personnel whom he perceives as insufficiently supportive of his administration. Nielson fits right in: As an official in the Justice Department under George W. Bush, Nielson was part of the “Screening Committee” that impermissibly, as the Department’s Justice Department Inspector General concluded, “considered political or ideological affiliations” in making non-political hiring decisions and weeding progressive applicants out of civil service jobs. Read more
Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard a case about whether a Colorado bakery can refuse to sell to same-sex couples because the baker has religious objections to their marriages and he considers his cakes to be works of art. While inside the Justices heard arguments, the steps outside the Court hosted a rally and protesters, a lively media scrum and gawking passersby — as is common these days.
So, why such a fuss about cake?
Because Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission isn’t really about cakes and weddings at all. It’s about whether the Court will go out of its way to change the law and let businesses discriminate against customers based on an owner’s religious beliefs, free speech rights or both.
These are old arguments. They’ve been tried against most equality movements in this country — especially to defend race, sex and marital status discrimination — with the courts always concluding that the answer must be “no.”
If there is a different answer now, it’s likely to give a bright green light to those wanting to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, which would be a massive step backwards for civil rights in this country. Read more