Connect with us

National

White House rejects gay judicial nominee

Supporters urged Schumer to fight for attorney accused of anti-Christian remarks

Published

on

The White House has rejected the recommended nomination of a New York attorney who would have become the first openly gay man to sit on the federal bench, because of comments he reportedly made about the Pledge of Allegiance and Christmas that were deemed anti-Christian.

In February, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recommended the nomination of Daniel Alter to serve as a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Presidents traditionally follow the guidance of senators from the state where there’s a vacancy for judicial nominations.

But informed sources told the Washington Blade that the White House rejected Alter’s nomination because of remarks he reportedly made regarding a case challenging inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. In addition, the White House reportedly objected to remarks that Alter made suggesting that merchants not wish shoppers “Merry Christmas” during the holidays.

In a 2005 article published by Cybercast News Service, Alter is quoted as saying that a general holiday greeting is more appropriate and inclusive for retailers as opposed to saying “Merry Christmas.”

“It seems both from a business … and a community perspective, that if merchandisers were going to do that … they would try to wish those in the community who may not share in celebrating Christmas a happy holiday as well,” Alter is quoted as saying.

“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 reportedly continued.

The 2005 quotes were apparently reprinted in a 2008 CNS article that is stored in the archives on the organization’s website.

Additionally, in a 2004 article published in The New Republic, Alter is quoted as saying the U.S. Supreme Court case Elk Grove United School District v. Newdow “was a good case at the wrong time.” The case challenged use of the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

The article reported Alter was “relieved” the Supreme Court decision “left open a window for future challenges.” The Anti-Defamation League had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Newdow case.

“When the right case does come along,” Alter reportedly said, “We’re there.”

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.

The comments he reportedly made came in his capacity as an official with the Anti-Defamation League. The White House decision to reject Alter disappointed his supporters, who rallied around him and urged Schumer to advance his nomination anyway.

Schumer announced his recommended nomination of Alter during a Human Rights Campaign dinner in New York City and emphasized that his selection would make him the first openly gay male judge on the federal bench.

In a February statement, Schumer said he recommended Alter because he’s “a brilliant attorney who possesses the knowledge, balanced views and temperament required of a federal judge.”

“His outstanding leadership skills, his commitment to justice, and his extensive experience make him an exceptional choice for a position on the federal bench,” Schumer said. “I’m proud to nominate Daniel Alter. Period. But I am equally proud to nominate him because he is a history-maker who will be the first openly gay male judge in American history.”

But based on those reported statements, the White House and Schumer 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.

Schumer’s office didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. A White House spokesperson declined to comment. Alter also declined to comment for this story.

Deborah Lauter, director of civil rights for the Anti-Defamation League, said the apparent decision to reject Alter’s nomination based on reported comments he made on behalf of the organization is “just plain unfair and unjust.”

“Any statements he made in the course of his job with ADL were just that — he was representing the views of our organization,” she said. “It’s dismaying if in fact that led to the derailing of his nomination.”

Lauter said Alter doesn’t recall speaking to The New Republic for the 2004 article and that Alter was misquoted in the 2005 CNS article.

“It was an inaccurate report and ADL should have insisted the record be corrected at the time,” Lauter said.

Lauter clarified that the Anti-Defamation League has never objected to retailers wishing customers “Merry Christmas.”

“But the bottom line is even if he made the comment, which he didn’t, it shouldn’t have disqualified him from service as a judge,” she said.

The decision to refuse the Alter nomination likely came sometime before July, when his supporters urged Schumer to go to bat for his recommended nominee.

In a letter dated July 2, 2010, a group of 66 attorneys who worked with Alter at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York wrote that the designation of Alter to the federal bench is “a nomination worth fighting for.”

“We urge you to take all possible steps to ensure that Mr. Alter is nominated to the federal bench and promptly considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” the letter states.

Among those who signed the letter is James Comey, who served as deputy attorney general during the Republican administration of former President George W. Bush.

The attorneys wrote that Alter’s “nomination to the federal bench is in jeopardy” because of “demonstrably false statements” that reporters made while he was working for the Anti-Defamation League. The missive doesn’t detail why the statements Alter reportedly made to media outlets are “demonstrably false.”

“While we will let others set forth the factual reasons why these allegations are baseless, we write to state emphatically that the sentiments falsely ascribed to Mr. Alter are inconsistent with everything that we know about him,” the letter states. “Mr. Alter has dedicated his life to tolerance, public service, moderation, and fidelity to law. He is unfailingly kind, respectful, and open-minded. In both deed and character, Mr. Alter is the antithesis of the views that have been misattributed to him.”

The signers state that they “cannot imagine a more highly qualified nominee” and that the loss of Alter to the federal judiciary based on “false allegations” would be significant.

“By temperament, he is well-suited to the bench, possessing every quality one seeks in a judge: respect for all views, dedication to the public, tireless pursuit of the best legal argument, and a determination to reach decisions that will command the respect of all parties,” the letter states.

Lauter said the Anti-Defamation League sent its own letter to Schumer in July urging the senator to push for Alter’s nomination, but she declined to make the letter public.

“It was a private letter to the senator just clarifying the record and expressing support — enthusiastically and without reservation — for Danny Alter’s nomination,” she said.

Also lamenting the derailment of Alter’s nomination is Richard Socarides, a gay New York attorney who served as an adviser to President Clinton.

Socarides told the Blade the White House’s rejection of Alter’s nomination was evidence of a broken system.

“I don’t know Daniel Alter personally,” Socarides said. “I’m told he is highly qualified. We need more people like him in the federal judiciary. I don’t know why his nomination got derailed, but certainly a system in which someone like Alter can’t get confirmed is badly broken.”

HRC heralded Schumer’s announcement of his recommended nomination of Alter in February, but the organization is mum on his rejection.

At the time of the announcement, Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president, said in a statement that Alter “is eminently qualified for a position on the federal bench.”

“America is taking a step forward toward equality by evaluating an individual based on his accomplishments and without regard to his sexual orientation,” Solmonese said. “We commend Senator Schumer for his historic recommendation, and look forward to the President’s nomination.”

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, this week declined to comment on the White House rejection of Alter.

Schumer has since recommended the nomination of another openly gay man, J. Paul Oetken, to become a district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The New York senator made the announcement in a Sept. 23 statement that said Oetken has “the right combination of skills, experience and dedication to [be] an excellent judge on the court.”

Oetken served as an attorney in private practice and was an associate counsel for former President Bill Clinton, according to the Schumer statement.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

National

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

Published

on

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

Continue Reading

National

Biden administration shifts monkeypox vaccine approach amid shortage

Health experts sees new guidance as mixed bag

Published

on

The Biden administration has changed its guidance on monkeypox vaccines to enhance availability amid the shortage.

The Biden administration, amid criticism it was slow to act on the monkeypox outbreak and still not meeting the demand for vaccines as the number of cases continues to grow, has announced a shift in guidance for implementation of the shot in an effort to enhance availability.

As the estimated number of monkeypox cases in the United States reaches 8,900, top health officials announced the new move on Tuesday as part of a decision by Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra to issue a determination under Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to justify emergency use authorization of vaccines. The announcement follows up on the Biden administration’s announcement last week declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

Becerra said in a conference call with reporters the 564 determination and change in approach to vaccines would “boost and strengthen” the Biden administration’s response to monkeypox, which has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men, and “safely accelerates and multiplies our supply of effective vaccines by up to fivefold.”

“Today’s action also reaffirms HHS and this administration’s commitment to using all available resources and capabilities to end the monkeypox outbreak and provide the best possible care to those suffering from the virus,” Becerra added.

The new vaccine approach, which may may be considered minor to non-medical observers, would change injections of the JYNNEOS vaccine from the subcutaneous route (delivery of the vaccine under the fat layer underneath the skin) to the intradermal route (delivery of the vaccine into the layer of skin just underneath the top layer). In theory, that would allow for greater accessibility of monkeypox vaccines as it increases the number of doses from each vial of vaccine.

The change was made amid criticism the Biden administration failed to meet the demand for vaccines during the outbreak and geographic inequity as certain metropolitan areas of the country have more access to vaccines than other places.

As The New York Times reported last week, the Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough in acquiring and distributing vaccines, including bulk stocks already owned by the U.S. government manufactured in Denmark by Bavaria Nordic now being given to other clients.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Biden officials, nonetheless, touted the numbers of vaccines and tests in response to monkeypox as a positive, acknowledging the 1.1 million vaccines being made available as well as delivery of more than 620,000 of those doses, deployment more than 15,000 courses of the monkeypox treatment and increasing the country’s capacity to administer tests on a weekly basis to around 80,000. Meanwhile, officials also promoted the change in approach in vaccines as means to allow greater accessibility to the shots.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, promoted during the conference call the use of intradermal injections and said they’re “often used for TB skin tests and have been used for other types of vaccines.”

Although Walensky conceded some health care providers “may not be as familiar with intradermal administration” as they are with subcutaneous injection, she said CDC would make additional guidance materials available, including a clinician alert message to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials, outreach to key clinician partners and an education resource video. The change in guidance, Walensky said, is for vaccine implementation in adults and children — where single digit monkeypox cases have been reported — would continue to receive vaccination in the traditional subcutaneous approach.

But health experts aren’t responding with overwhelming praise to the decision to change the guidance on vaccine implementation from subcutaneous injections to intradermal injections, expressing concerns the new approach may be insufficient.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those saying the change in guidance on vaccine approach was a mixed bag and told the Blade more data is needed to emulate the effectiveness.

“As we saw with COVID, using these authorities in the context of public health emergencies is an important strategy,” Kates said. “In this case, this step will significantly expand access to vaccines for those most at risk. However, there remain questions about the effectiveness of this approach — real world studies are needed — and challenges to translating vaccines into vaccinations.”

Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research (CBER) at the Food & Drug Administration, was asked during the conference call with reporters to respond to concerns the change in guidance was insufficient and downplayed the novelty of implementing the vaccines through the intradermal route as “not at all new.”

“In fact, the reason why the Bavaria part of this equation comes from the fact that in Germany, this vaccine was given intradermally originally, in an effort to replicate the original version of the smallpox vaccine,” Marks said. “It’s been given to thousands of people intradermally, so this isn’t the first time it’s been done.”

Walkensky said the intradermal vaccine approach has been implemented amid policies among localities to implement a one-dose approach to the JYNNEOS vaccine through the subcutaneous route. (The D.C. government is one of the jurisdictions that had enacted a one-dose approach amid a vaccine shortage.) There is not data, Walkensky said, to support that approach and “in fact, if anything, there are data saying that that is not protective enough.”

“So by using this alternative strategy of intradermal dosing, not only do we have more doses, but we actually allow people to get two doses in a way that shows immunologic response that’s superimposable from the subcutaneous dosing,” Walkensky said. “So we have more doses, and in fact, we have the ability to doubly vaccinate people so that they get the protection that they need.”

Continue Reading

National

CDC echoes call for MSM to limit sex partners in monkeypox guidance

Controversial guidance also issued by WHO

Published

on

CDC is calling on men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is now echoing the controversial call for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners amid the monkeypox outbreak.

The agency made the call as part of new comprehensive monkeypox guidance issued on Friday, which lists “limit your number of sex partners to reduce your likelihood of exposure” as among several ways to reduce risk, with vaccination at the top of the list.

Vaccination is an important tool in preventing the spread of monkeypox,” the guidance says. “But given the current limited supply of vaccine, consider temporarily changing some behaviors that may increase your risk of being exposed. These temporary changes will help slow the spread of monkeypox until vaccine supply is adequate.”

The call to limit partners was previously made by the World Health Organization and has been controversial as observers say it may stigmatize sex among gay and bisexual men, who are disproportionately affected by monkeypox.

Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director of the White House task force on monkeypox, outlined the new guidance on Friday in a conference call with reporters.

Asked by the Washington Blade whether the Biden administration agrees with WHO about the need for men who have sex with men to limit their sexual partners, Daskalakis alluded to the multi-faceted aspects of the CDC guidance.

“It mentions that folks should consider reducing multiple partners and anonymous new partners as one strategy to prevent exposure to monkeypox,” Daskalakis said. “So I think really, there’s a broad range, and I think one of the things that’s really important about the CDC guidance is it’s designed to really meet people where they are and see what we can do to have individuals to create their own prevention plans, understanding that there’s not one answer for preventing monkeypox, that it requires a lot of domains to really achieve the goal of preventing new infections.”

Vaccinations for monkeypox are a key component of the CDC guidance, even though the limited availability has not kept up with the growing demand for the shots as the outbreak continues. Daskalakis conceded on the call there is “supply and demand mismatch” for vaccines, but maintained the Department of Health & Human Services announcement declaring monkeypox a public health crisis would be a tool to address the shortage.

A key concern among reporters on the call was the Biden administration not emphasizing the disease is almost exclusively at this point affecting gay and bisexual men, as well as concerns about stigma and misinformation about monkeypox.

Daskalakis, drawing on his experience as a medical expert during the HIV/AIDS crisis, emphasized stigma should play no part in messaging.

“I know from my own experience in public health and personally that stigma is actually what drives so much of infection and really creates false starts and false information that really gets people to go down paths that end up really vilifying people’s lives and behavior,” Daskalakis said. “And so, coming from the experience, both professionally and personally, it is my mission, to not allow stigma to be a part of this or any response that I work on.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]