Eight months into the Trump era, it may be tempting to believe the Republican president and Republican Congress have, at least for now, failed to change the country’s direction. But it’s important not to forget the federal judiciary.
Shortly before lawmakers left for their summer break, for example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was asked about his party’s challenges advancing its agenda. He replied, “We have a new Supreme Court justice.” McConnell had a point: while legislative setbacks matter, GOP officials are moving the courts to the right.
And that won’t change anytime soon. CNN yesterday put the spotlight on one of Donald Trump’s most radical judicial nominees.
In a pair of 2015 speeches, President Donald Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship in Texas described transgender children as evidence of “Satan’s plan,” lamented that states were banning conversion therapy and argued that sanctioning same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and bestiality.
Jeff Mateer, the current first assistant attorney general of Texas, was serving at the time as general counsel of the First Liberty Institute, a religious liberty advocacy group known before 2016 as the Liberty Institute. He faced criticism from LGBT rights groups for his work with the organization, such as opposing the expansion of nondiscrimination protections to LGBT people in the city of Plano.
In one instance, Mateer said in reference to marriage equality, “There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like – you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh yes it is. We’re back to that time where debauchery rules.”
CNN’s report added, “Later that year in November 2015, Mateer lamented that states were banning gay conversion therapy at a conference hosted by controversial pastor Kevin Swanson, who preaches that the Biblical punishment for homosexuality is death.” (If Swanson’s name sounds familiar, you might’ve seen Rachel’s segment on him two years ago.)
And as startling as the CNN report is, it’s really just the start. Right Wing Watch published a piece yesterday taking a closer look at the judicial nominee’s radical background, which seems like it should be disqualifying for the judiciary.
In case this isn’t obvious, keep in mind that if Jeff Mateer is confirmed by the Senate Republican majority, it’s a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. In other words, barring impeachment, he’d be a federal judge for as long as he wants to be one.
As we discussed in July, Trump and congressional Republicans will be in a position to advance their agenda while in power, but in many areas, changes made now can be changed back in the future. It’s incredibly difficult, of course, but health care benefits can be restored; alliances can be rebuilt, etc.
The federal courts, however, are different because federal jurists serve such long terms, which means we’ll be dealing with the consequences of Trump’s – and his party’s – eagerness to move the court sharply to the right for decades to come. And as long as Senate Republicans vote in lock-step, there’s not a whole lot Democrats can do stop nominees like Jeff Mateer.
Postscript: It’s not uncommon for the White House to send district-court nominees to the Senate on the recommendation of home-state senators. In this case, it’s likely that Mateer is up for a seat on the federal bench because Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, or both asked the president to nominate him.