December 21, 2018 at 2:23 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Utah senator blocks lesbian EEOC appointment
Chai Feldblum, gay news, Washington Blade, United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, gay news, Washington Blade

Lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum is facing lone opposition from Sen. Mike Lee in her bid for a third term on the EEOC. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Wednesday continued his one-man effort to block the nomination of lesbian attorney Chai Feldblum to a third term on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In a Dec. 19 Senate floor discussion on the Feldblum nomination, Lee invoked a longstanding Senate rule that gives a single senator the ability to indefinitely hold up and potentially kill a presidential nomination for a non-judicial appointment by declaring an objection to the nominee.

In keeping with another longstanding tradition of bipartisan cooperation in approving nominees to the five-member EEOC, President Donald Trump earlier this year agreed to a request by Senate Democrats that he nominate Feldblum for a third term on the EEOC. At the same time, Trump nominated two others to the EEOC at the request of Senate Republicans.

Trump was following a tradition carried out by nearly every U.S. president since the EEOC was created by Congress in 1965 to enforce the employment nondiscrimination provisions of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since that time three of the five commissioners have been selected for a four-year term by the party that holds the presidency while the other two have been selected by the minority party.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has led efforts in support Feldblum’s nomination, pointed out in remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday that the Senate has approved nearly all EEOC nominees by a unanimous consent. When she asked for unanimous consent for the confirmation of Feldblum along with GOP nominees Janel Dhillon and Daniel Gade, Lee objected.

Among other things, Lee accused Feldblum of being a strong and unreasonable opponent of “religious freedom” and claimed Feldblum has stated openly that in employment discrimination cases, an employer cannot cite religious beliefs as a legal ground for refusing to hire someone.

“Ms. Feldblum has written that she sees a conflict between religious belief and LGBT liberty as ‘a zero-sum game’ where ‘a gain for one side necessarily entails a corresponding loss for the other side,’” Lee quoted Feldblum as saying.

“These are not the words of an open-minded lawyer,” he continued. “These are the words of an activist intent on stamping out all opposition to her cause.”

Lee also said he opposes Feldblum’s nomination because of her longstanding and active role in pushing for legalizing same-sex marriage, something Lee said he strongly opposes because it’s at odds with his religious beliefs.

Murray disputed Lee’s interpretation of Feldblum’s statements pertaining to the issue of employment discrimination. She also pointed out that by blocking a resolution for the joint approval of Feldblum and the other two nominees, Lee’s action would result in the lack of a quorum on the EEOC because there would be just two of the five commissioners in office beginning on Jan. 1.

Such a development could prevent the EEOC from deciding on important employment discrimination and sexual harassment cases expected to be brought before the commission in 2019, Murray said.

“I come to the floor today to raise concerns about the unprecedented and partisan obstruction of a highly qualified nominee to a critical agency,” Murray said in her remarks on the Senate floor.

“In this country it is illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of the traits that make them who they are – their race, religion, sex, disability, and more – and it is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s responsibility to enforce those laws and give every person the opportunity to make a living for themselves without fear of discrimination or harassment,” Murray said.

She and others supporting Feldblum’s nomination have also noted that Feldblum played a key role in persuading the EEOC to interpret existing federal laws to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Lee has cited Feldblum’s actions along those lines as among the reasons why he’s opposing her nomination for a third term on the commission.

“Right now, a single Republican senator is threatening to derail the confirmation of Ms. Feldblum for another term on the EEOC,” Murray said. “Ms. Feldblum has served two terms on the EEOC, where she has earned the respect of her professional colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Murray said. “She has strong support from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, and she has been confirmed by this Senate twice.”

The New York-based national LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD is among the organizations and individuals supporting Feldblum that are calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to use his authority to release the Feldblum nomination from Lee’s hold and bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.

“Commissioner Feldblum has served the EEOC with integrity and is experienced and highly qualified for the job,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “With many Americans seeking justice and surviving discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s imperative that the country’s top political reporters cover this alarming problem,” said Ellis, who was referring to GLAAD’s concern that mainstream media outlets have not reported the holdup of Feldblum’s nomination.

“One anti-LGBTQ activist should not silence many people seeking justice under the law,” Ellis said.

Also expressing support for Feldblum’s nomination this week was Jerri Ann Henry, who earlier this month assumed the role of executive director of the national LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans.

“Log Cabin Republicans is disheartened to hear that Republican Senator Mike Lee is delaying the bipartisan confirmation of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) nominee Chai Feldblum over her support for same-sex marriage,” Henry said in a statement.

“Marriage equality is the law of the land, and a right supported by the vast majority of Americans,” Henry said. “Members of the EEOC have an obligation to uphold established law to ensure no American faces wrongful workplace discrimination for their gender, race, religion, or the gender of their spouse,” she said. “In this regard, Ms. Feldblum has carried out her role with distinction,” added Henry.

“If Sen. Lee wants to better represent Republicans on this issue, he should do so by supporting marriage, not by playing politics over settled law,” she said.

When asked by the Blade at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday for further comment on his opposition to the Feldblum nomination, Lee declined to comment and referred the Blade to his remarks on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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