Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge, to fill the late Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat, a move LGBT advocates are describing as “hostile” to gay rights.
Gorsuch, 49, will become the youngest jurist ever appointed to the high court if confirmed by the Senate, and has vowed to fulfill Trump’s desire to follow “closely” in the footsteps of the ultraconservative Scalia. “I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country,” Gorsuch said at a Trump press conference in Washington, where he also characterized Scalia as a “lion of the law”.
While on the appeals bench, Gorsuch heard the controversial Hobby Lobby case, in which he ruled employers can cite “religious beliefs” when choosing to deny employees contraceptive coverage, or protections against things like anti-LGBT discrimination. Lambda Legal, a New York-based LGBT-rights organization, decried the nomination, calling Gorsuch “hostile” to the LGBT community.
“Judge Gorsuch’s opinion in the 10th Circuit Hobby Lobby decision is disqualifying,” Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, declared. “The Hobby Lobby decision set a terrible and destructive standard for bosses being allowed to meddle in our sex lives and decide whether or not birth control is covered by the employer’s insurance plan.
In Judge Gorsuch’s decision, he calls the inclusion of health coverage that includes birth control – ‘complicity…in the wrongdoing of others.’” If Gorsuch joins the Supreme Court, he would restore an earlier 5-4 conservative majority, with Anthony Kennedy becoming the “swing judge”. Gorsuch was chosen, sources say, in part because of his personal connection to Kennedy, for whom he clerked, as a “reassuring signal” which would encourage the 80-year-old Kennedy to retire, allowing Trump to fill a second seat on the Court.
Gorsuch’s nomination comes amid turmoil over Trump’s firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who refused to defend the President’s abrupt travel ban on immigrants and visa holders from seven “Muslim majority” countries in the Middle East. Also in controversy is the Obama-era nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, which Senate Republicans deliberately blocked, by failing to convene conformation hearings for the liberal jurist. Congressional Democrats were mulling whether to “respond in kind” with regard to the Gorsuch nomination, which Sen. Cory Booker called “a stolen seat”.
Lambda Legal officials, meanwhile, vowed to fight the appointment, saying, “We absolutely must not confirm a Supreme Court nominee who has ruled that the religious beliefs of employers can trump the law. It is a short hop from birth control restrictions to restrictions on the intimate relationships and health care needs of LGBT people.
Through his decisions, Judge Gorsuch has promoted a vision of a society where some religions prevail over others, and are invited to flout the law. Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record is hostile toward LGBT people and his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is unacceptable—we oppose.”
Confirmation hearings are expected to begin later this month, although Democratic senators have indicated a possible filibuster may be in the making.