Trump’s Judicial Picks Call Trans Children ‘Satan’s Plan,’ Says Gays Are ‘Brainwashing’ Kids, and More

Not only has the president put forward unqualified jurists, the ones who seem qualified are bigoted.


Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Amazingly, there are still some gay people out there who think Donald Trump is their man. They should take a look at the people he’s nominated to serve lifetime terms on the bench: It’s a rainbow of homophobes. Here are seven of the worst.

1. Jeff Mateer

The most notorious of Trump’s anti-gay judicial nominees is Jeff Mateer, nominated to serve in the Eastern District of Texas. Unusually for a judicial pick, he’s managed to earn his own hashtag, #stopmateer.

In 2015, Mateer said in a speech that parents suing on behalf of their transgender children “really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.” In the same speech, he said regarding same-sex marriage that “there’ll be no line there… I mean, it’s disgusting. I’ve learned words I didn’t know... Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like—you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh yes it is. We’re back to that time where debauchery rules.”

This is someone who will be called upon, for decades, to decide the fate of LGBT people involved in custody disputes, employment claims, anti-discrimintion actions: someone who finds transgender kids to be part of Satan’s plan, and who thinks that marriages like mine are no different from people marrying pets (or a tree).

The speech wasn’t some one-off aberration either. Also in 2015, Mateer attended the “National Religious Liberty Conference” hosted by Kevin Swanson, who has said that society should impose the death penalty for homosexuality, has predicted that God will punish America because of Harry Potter’s “homosexual mentor” Dumbledore, has said that Frozen is a Satanic plot to make children gay, and has blamed Hurricane Harvey on Houston’s “pro-homosexual mayor.” Mateer has not made any statements distancing himself from Swanson.

At that conference, Mateer himself shared his views about Obergefell v. Hodges. He also said that no honest attorney could defend the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, and gave a presentation warning of LGBT “brainwashing” and “reprogramming” efforts. He went as far as to say that Obergefell v. Hodges is “not the law of the land” because “it’s a 5-4 decision with Justice Kennedy joining the four liberals.” This is someone whose life-tenure job would require him to respect Supreme Court precedent—except, presumably, those he doesn’t personally consider to be the law of the land because liberals decided the outcome.

And yet so far, not a single Republican senator has opposed him—or anyone else on this list for that matter.

2. Mark Norris

The majority leader of the Tennessee Senate, Mark Norris, nominated to the district court for the Western District of Tennessee, has sponsored a raft of bills that targeted the civil rights of immigrants, Muslims, and many others (PDF)—but has distinguished himself by his fierce opposition to the LGBT community.

Norris has sponsored or supported bills that allow mental health counselors to discriminate against LGBT people, prevent cities from passing non-discrimination protections for LGBTs, define parental rights in custody battles to exclude non-birth parents (this was dubbed the “LGBT Erasure Bill”), and prevent any information about homosexuality from being shared or discussed in schools (the “Don’t Say Gay” bill).

Norris and a group of fellow legislators even sought to intervene in a custody dispute between a same-sex couple to deny rights to the non-birth mother, over the objection of Tennessee’s attorney general and in open defiance of Obergefell.

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As with Mateer, Norris has subordinated respect for the rule of law to his personal religious views about marriage and sexuality. Not only are those views harsh in the extreme, but they trump the democratic norms that federal judges are meant to uphold.

3. Damien Schiff

We reported on Damien Schiff as one of several right-wing bloggers nominated to the federal bench by President Comment Section. In anonymous blog posts, Schiff opined that Social Security is unconstitutional and called Justice Anthony Kennedy a “judicial prostitute.” But Schiff has blogged on LGBT issues too.

According to Lambda Legal, in 2009, Schiff wrote an anonymous piece entitled “Teaching ‘gayness’ in public schools,” where he railed against a California anti-bullying lesson plan. Schiff said “it seems to teach not only that bullying of homosexuals is wrong, but also that the homosexual lifestyle is a good, and that homosexual families are the moral equivalent of traditional heterosexual families.”

This in response to a curriculum that tries to prevent bullying of any teenagers deemed to be ‘different.’ Oh, and the remedy? “Allow parents to opt out of public schools altogether, and let them keep their taxes.”

Elsewhere – and also anonymously – Schiff posted: “The impetus for the gay rights movement is that we cannot deny to consenting adults the full cultural and legal recognition of the propriety of their sexual fulfillment.” As if lifelong commitments between adults, building families together, sharing their lives, and supporting one another for better or for worse, are no more than “sexual fulfillment.”

Can you imagine if my husband and I have a case before Judge Schiff? Will we receive equal justice under the law? And if we will not, why has not a single Republican senator risen to oppose him?

4. Steven Grasz

Nominated to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (one level below the Supreme Court), L. Steven Grasz is the second nominee to receive a unanimous “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. By way of comparison, only two other unanimous unqualified ratings were issued from 1989-2015.

Among other things, Grasz is a board member, and former board chair, of the Nebraska Family Alliance, where his son Nate also works. Naturally, the NFA is opposed to same-sex marriage and LGBT equality in general.

The NFA also continues to support the ineffective, thoroughly debunked, and psychologically harmful practice of “conversion therapy,” in which gay people (often teenagers forced by their parents) try to pray, talk, and cajole themselves into becoming straight. Nate Grasz even wrote that bans on forcing minors to undergo such ‘therapy’ “trample on parental rights.” Focus on the Family has made fighting the bans one of its signature campaigns.

The younger Grasz has also opined that anti-discrimination “laws are not used to stop actual discrimination but instead are used to silence dissent and punish people of faith who disagree on marriage and human sexuality.”

The NFA is affiliated with Focus on the Family, one of the largest Christian Right organizations in the country, which has led the fight against anti-discrimination laws, for religious exemptions, against transgender inclusion—you name it. (Forget inclusion – they’ve led the fight to deny that “transgenderism” even exists.) Focus has even allied internationally with Russian anti-gay activists, including the authors of its notorious “anti-propaganda” law, as part of the World Congress of Families.

Focus is led by James Dobson, a controversial firebrand who has said that the goal of the LGBT equality movement is the “utter destruction of the family,” has likened supporters of marriage equality to Nazis, and, for good measure, has claimed that SpongeBob Squarepants “advances a homosexual agenda”

Mike Pence recently told Focus on the Family that they have an “unwavering ally” in Trump, and the nomination of Steve Grasz is part of that “allyship” (or payback for their support in 2016, if you prefer). Grasz isn’t just someone with particularly anti-gay views; he is part of one of the anti-gay world’s leading organizations.

5. Don Willett

Texas Supreme Court judge Don Willett, nominated to Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, is another longtime darling of the Christian Right. Willett himself has boasted in 2012 that “I’ve built a record that is widely described – well, universally described—as the most conservative of anybody on the [Texas] Supreme Court. I’ve garnered support from every corner of the conservative movement. There’s no ideological daylight to the right of me… I’m universally regarded to be the most conservative member of the court, which is a label that I accept with, frankly, gladness and gusto.”

Willett’s conservatism isn’t limited to LGBT issues—back in 1998 he decried women in the workplace, saying that working women “place kids in the care of rented strangers”—it certainly extends to them. In 2005, he attended a religious gathering where speakers promised literal hellfire to rain upon gays and lesbians. More recently, Willett dissented from a 2015 Texas court decision allowing two women to marry before the state ban on same-sex marriages expired because one of the women was dying of ovarian cancer.

And just this year, Willett was part of the Texas Supreme Court majority that held that Obergefell didn’t guarantee same-sex married spouses the same level of benefits as opposite-sex ones.

Once again, no Republican has opposed Willett’s nomination.

6. Stuart Kyle Duncan

Kyle Duncan, also nominated to the Fifth Circuit, is best known for being the general counsel at the right wing ‘religious freedom’ organization The Becket Fund when they worked on their most prominent case: Hobby Lobby, at the Supreme Court.

But since leaving Becket to start his own firm in 2014, Duncan has been on a crusade to limit the right to same-sex marriage. As reported by Lambda Legal, Duncan has defended Louisiana’s (pre-2015) ban on same-sex marriage, defended its refusal to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, defended its refusal to issue a birth certificate to a child adopted by a same-sex couple, and defended Alabama against a challenge from a lesbian mother whose parental rights were stripped away by the state.

Duncan also was the lawyer for North Carolina’s notorious H.B. 2, arguing a number of cases and at one point stating that transgender people are merely “delusional.” Once again, this is not merely someone with particular views; Duncan is someone who has been the lawyer for anti-gay and anti-trans positions in case after case after case.

7. Matthew Kacsmaryk

Finally, while Matthew Kacsmaryk, nominated to the district court for the Northern District of Texas, has also worked for Christian Right organizations such as the Liberty Institute and the Becket Fund, it’s his personal writing that stands out.

In a 2015 think piece, for example, Kacsmaryk wrote that LGBT people seek “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.” Once again, notice the reduction of LGBT identity to “erotic desires” and the strange, uncited, unsupported characterization of how LGBT people understand themselves or their movement.

Similarly, in an essay in the National Catholic Register, Kacsmaryk approvingly cited the Catholic dogma that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” and described “sexual revolutionaries” as holding “very different definitions of the human person” from Christians. For Kacsmaryk, there appears to be no distinction between his sectarian conservative Catholicism’s iteration of ‘Natural Law’ (which is nothing if not human-conceived) and the agreed-upon secular rights in a democracy such as ours.

To be sure, Kacsmaryk’s philosophizing is a light year away from the demagoguery of James Dobson. But it shares the dehumanizing view that LGBT people are not rational, spiritual moral agents, but rather sex-crazed libertines with no understanding that their “erotic desires” contravene some abstract natural law, which we must all agree to be valid. One shudders to think of how these beliefs will impact Kacsmaryk’s decisions on cases—as yet, no one has asked.

There is organized resistance to these judges. Lambda Legal, the leading LGBT organization focused on litigation and the justice system, held a rally on the steps of the Capitol on Monday, and has filed letters of opposition to these and other nominees.

But much more will be needed. Where is the accountability of supposedly moderate Republicans when it comes to nominees like this? No one would expect a Republican to oppose all, or even most, of Trump’s 53 judicial nominations—but the most extreme, such as these, deserve more than

If Trump is really as irresponsible as Sens. Flake, Corker, McCain (at times), and Graham (at times) have said, then those entrusted with maintaining checks and balances must be more responsible than usual. Or at least more responsible than this.