The U.S. Senate confirmed on Friday Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court much to the dismay of LGBT rights supporters who think he’ll oppose LGBT rights and Democrats who say the seat was unfairly awarded to him.
The Senate confirmed him to the seat by a largely party-line vote of 54-45, although Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) joined Republicans to confirm the nominee. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who’s recovering from back surgery, missed the vote.
Russell Roybal, deputy executive director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in a statement the confirmation amounts to “the triumph of bullying over moderation.”
“Taking their lead from the Bully-in-Chief Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell twisted and turned the rules of the Senate to ram this extremist nominee through — slashing and burning safeguards for moderation, such as the rule calling for a 60 votes threshold needed to confirm an Associate Supreme Court Justice,” Roybal said. “We now have a new Justice who is so conservative that he makes Antonin Scalia look moderate,”
The Gorsuch confirmation is a win for President Trump after a first 100 days in office marked by questions about his presidential campaign’s relationship with Russia, the failure of legislation he endorsed to repeal Obamacare and national security challenges in Syria and North Korea.
But Democrats put up a fight in the road to confirmation, citing Senate Republicans’ unwillingness to even hold a hearing for President Obama’s choice for the seat — U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland — when it was first made open by the death of the U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia last year.
Democrats on Thursday successfully filibustered by the nomination after speaking out on the Senate floor against Gorsuch on the Senate. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who said he’d filibuster any nominee other than Garland, spoke for 15 hours on the Senate floor against Trump’s nominee.
In the end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was able to move forward by changing the rules and exercising the “nuclear option,” which ended the ability for senators to filibuster nominees to the Supreme Court. McConnell cited as precedent for this action former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid ending the filibuster in 2013 for administrative appointments and lower court judicial nominees.
Commending McConnell for his actions to ensure the confirmation of Gorsuch was Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council.
“Leader McConnell is to be commended for holding fast to historical precedent of not allowing an outgoing president to pack the Court with ideological jurists on his way out of the White House,” Perkins said. “The Supreme Court vacancy after the death of Justice Scalia became a defining issue of the 2016 presidential election. President Trump made history by telling voters who he would appoint to the Court by providing a list — the American people chose him and he in turn chose from the list, keeping his promise.”
LGBT rights supporters have expressed concerns about Gorsuch largely because of his record as a judge on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Chief among those concerns is a ruling the Hobby Lobby case in which he determined the retail chain should afforded “religious freedom” despite requirements under Obamacare to deny contraceptive coverage for female employees. Many LGBT rights supporters say that could be a prelude to Gorsuch being willing to institute “religious freedom” carve-outs in LGBT non-discrimination laws.
Other LGBT criticism over Gorsuch relates to his decisions on transgender rights. In 2015, Gorsuch joined an 11th Circuit decision against a transgender inmate who alleged she was denied transition-related hormone therapy and unfairly housed in an all-male facility. In 2009, Gorsuch also joined an unpublished opinion finding the provision against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t apply to transgender people.
In a 2005 op-ed for the National Review “Liberals & Lawsuits,” Gorsuch excoriated the progressive movement for seeking advancements in the courts, identifying same-sex marriage an issue that should be decided elsewhere a decade before the Supreme Court would rule for marriage equality nationwide.
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, condemned Senate Republicans for the confirmation of Gorsuch in a statement based on his anti-LGBT rulings and writings.
“Republicans in the Senate just destroyed a steadfast American tradition for the purpose of confirming a person to the U.S. Supreme Court who will most certainly vote in opposition to the safety and well-being of the LGBTQ community and many marginalized groups for his entire career on the bench,” Ellis said. “With his history of siding against transgender Americans and arguing against marriage equality, Neil Gorsuch is yet another reprehensible pawn in the Trump Administration’s goal of erasing the LGBTQ community from the fabric of America.”
During his confirmation hearing, Gorsuch said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage is “settled law,” but added “there is ongoing litigation about its impact and application right now,” suggesting he thinks limitations to the ruling are still on the table. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Gorsuch also refused to answer in response to written questions from the Senate whether he thinks LGBT people are eligible for protections under current federal civil rights laws.
Stan Sloan, CEO of the Family Equality Council, said in a statement he hopes concerns about Gorsuch’s views on legal protections for LGBT people prove incorrect now that the jurist has been confirmed to the Supreme Court.
“Family Equality Council opposed the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and we are disappointed that this confirmation is now a reality,” Sloan said. “We hope that our fears concerning his ability to assure fair treatment of LGBTQ individuals and families — and members of all marginalized communities — will now be proven wrong, and that Justice Gorsuch rises to support and protect the civil liberties of all Americans.”