On August 3, 2017, President Trump nominated Leonard Steven “Steve” Grasz, a former Chief Deputy Attorney General of Nebraska, to serve as a federal judge on the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Grasz is the President’s third nominee to that court, along with David Stras and Ralph Erickson. Grasz is nominated to fill the seat of former Chief Judge William J. Riley, who took senior status on June 30, 2017.
Grasz’s record is deeply concerning, particularly his opposition to the rights of women and the LGBTQ community. Alliance for Justice strongly opposes Grasz’s nomination.
Grasz’s nomination is in keeping with President Trump’s promise to nominate candidates to the federal judiciary who are hostile to Roe v. Wade. Notably, Grasz has compared the “personhood” of fetuses to the civil rights of Native and African Americans. Moreover, since August 2015, Grasz has served on the Board of the Nebraska Family Alliance, and is currently its Director. The Family Alliance has celebrated the mass closings of clinics that offer women’s reproductive services, condemned Supreme Court decisions that protect women’s rights, and claimed that abortion rights “put women’s lives at risk.” As an attorney, Grasz fought vigorously against women’s reproductive rights. He defended Nebraska’s unconstitutional statute in Stenberg v. Carhart, and fought to deny Medicaid coverage, as required by federal law, to a woman who sought to terminate her pregnancy because she had been raped.
Grasz has fought with equal enthusiasm against LGBTQ equality. In 2013, he proposed an Amendment to the Omaha City Charter that would have allowed employers to discriminate against LGBTQ people in hiring. And, under Grasz’s leadership, the Family Alliance opposed legislation to “[p]rohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity” in the workplace by arguing that the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” describe “behaviors,” rather than “traits” like race.
Among the most disturbing content in the Family Alliance’s written materials are articles supporting the cruel practice of conversion therapy. The Alliance has claimed that “[a] generation of children is being raised to believe in the social construct of a gender spectrum, instead of the biological reality of male and female. This is a trend that should be rejected at every level.” To that end, the Family Alliance also signed an amicus brief in Obergefell v. Hodges arguing that only the parenting of “a mother and a father[,]” rather than a same-sex couple, “provides children with the optimal environment for their cognitive, social, and emotional development from infancy through adolescence.”
On another front, Grasz has vigorously advocated for the implementation of the death penalty in Nebraska, fighting to reinstate the practice even after the state legislature repealed capital punishment statutes.
Grasz has also displayed troubling views regarding separation of church and state, raising questions about whether he will properly enforce Supreme Court precedent on the issue.
Indeed, for someone who wants to be a federal judge, responsible for fairly applying Supreme Court precedent, it is worrying that Grasz has not only disagreed with Supreme Court jurisprudence but has questioned the Court’s legitimacy when it issues decisions he personally disagrees with. For example, in 2012, following National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, Grasz claimed, “[t]he Roberts opinion has itself placed the legitimacy of the court, as well as our freedom as Americans, in great jeopardy.” He said the Chief Justice (whom Grasz had publicly supported) “ushered in the ultimate transfer of limitless power to the federal government.”