October 22, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Rejected gay judicial nominee speaks out

A gay New York attorney whose nomination to the federal bench was rejected by the White House over anti-Christian comments he allegedly made claims that media outlets mischaracterized his views.

In an Oct. 21 letter to the Washington Blade, Daniel Alter said media outlets misrepresented his views on inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and the practice of wishing shoppers “Merry Christmas” during the holidays.

The Blade this week published those reported statements as they were presented in a 2005 article from Cybercast News Online and a 2004 article in The New Republic.

“Having read the [Blade] article, I am concerned that other readers might come away believing that I am hostile to the seasonal greetings ‘Merry Christmas’ and that I personally object to the Pledge of Allegiance,” Alter writes. “Neither is true.”

In February, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his recommended nomination of Alter to serve as a judge for the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.

But informed sources told the Blade the White House rejected the nomination over the statements perceived as anti-Christian.

Alter was previously an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and specialized in First Amendment and terrorism issues. He also served as national director of the civil rights division of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that works to fight anti-Semitism.

Had the Senate confirmed Alter to the position, he would have become the first openly gay male to serve on the federal bench.

In his letter to the Blade, Alter says the CNS article that quotes his views on “Merry Christmas” took his “words entirely out of context.”

“As National Civil Rights Director for the Anti-Defamation League, it was my job to express ADL’s view that — especially at holiday time — people should appreciate that different faith traditions celebrate differently, and children’s schools and other public institutions should try to acknowledge these diverse customs when they sponsor holiday events,” Alter says. “In short, the message was that holiday time should be a time for warmth and inclusion, not division and exclusion.”

The quote from the 2005 CNS article reads: “Our diversity has made us great and will continue to make us great and ['Merry Christmas'] undermines both the holiday spirit as well as the message I think Americans should be sending to each other.”

Alter attached to his letter to the Blade a 2005 e-mail he sent to the communications staff at the Anti-Defamation League saying CNS News “falsely reported” his remarks.

“I feel strongly that we should send a correction for the record,” Alter said at the time. “I do not want to go down as someone who is hostile to ‘Merry Christmas.’”

Deborah Lauter, current director of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League, has told the Blade her organization “should have insisted” the record be corrected at the time.

CNS News didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the accuracy of the Alter quote.

In the letter to Blade, Alter also takes issue with the way his views of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were presented in the 2004 article in The New Republic and says his fidelity to the pledge has “never waivered.”

“Not while I recited it on a daily basis in elementary school, not while I served in the United States Department of Justice for almost eight years, and not while I worked at ADL earnestly defending the fundamental right of all who live in this nation to practice their faith freely and enthusiastically, or not to be religious, depending upon their individual conscience,” Alter says.

In his letter, Alter doesn’t explicitly state that he was misquoted in The New Republic article in 2004 or that the piece merited a correction.

Lauter has told the Blade that Alter said he doesn’t recall speaking to The New Republic reporter who quoted him in the article.

The New Republic article quotes Alter as saying that the U.S. Supreme Court case Elk Grove United School District v. Newdow, which challenged inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, was “a good case at the wrong time.” Additionally, the article reports that Alter was “relieved” the Supreme Court decision “left open a window for future challenges.”

The New Republic didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on whether it stands by its reporting from 2004.

Based on the reported statements, the White House and Schumer reportedly determined that Alter wouldn’t be able to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster of his nomination. It’s unclear when the decision to reject Alter was made.

The rejection disappointed many of his supporters, who urged the White House and Schumer to reconsider the decision and push him through the Senate. Schumer has since recommended the nomination of another openly gay man for the position on the judiciary.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, addressed the rejection of Alter’s nomination in a statement to the Blade.

“The White House does not comment on Presidential appointments that have not been announced,” Inouye said. “But all potential nominees are considered on the basis of their qualifications.”

Inouye said the president is committed to appointing “highly qualified individuals” for each post and “is proud that his appointments reflect the diversity of the American public.”

“We have already made a record number of openly LGBT appointments — including appointments to the judicial branch — and we are confident that this number will only continue to grow,” Inouye said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

2 Comments
  • The “Pledge” is more than a pledge of allegiance; it is a statement of beliefs, and these are beliefs I do not share. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” simply does not describe the United States today. I do not believe that it is “under God,” a religious belief, it may well not be “Indivisible,” and it certainly is without “liberty and justice for all.”

  • So… unless you have “christian” views, you can’t become a judicial nominee??? Sad.

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