WASHINGTON ― The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, Kyle Duncan, a lawyer who built his career on fighting abortion rights, LGBTQ rights and voting rights.
Every Republican voted to confirm Duncan, 45, to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. One Democrat voted for him, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.).
There’s nothing particularly surprising about Republicans lining up behind a Republican president’s court pick. In fact, not a single GOP senator has voted against any of Trump’s judicial nominees, aside from one no vote cast by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).
But what’s puzzling is that Republican senators who identify as pro-choice or pro-LGBTQ rights keep voting to confirm lifetime judges poised to chip away at those rights ― and the interest groups that praise these senators for their views seem to be ignoring their contrary votes on judges, whose decisions will affect generations of people.
Take Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Both are pro-choice; Murkowski is a member of several GOP organizations that support abortion rights, including the Republican Majority for Choice, and Collins just won a big award from Planned Parenthood.
“Throughout my service in the Senate, I have been a strong proponent of measures to promote and protect women’s health and expand all Americans’ access to quality health care,” Collins said in November when she received her award.
And yet, both just voted to confirm Duncan, who led the legal fight against the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. He also wrote a brief in opposition to a Washington state law that required pharmacies to stock birth control, and co-authored a brief supporting Texas’ extreme restrictions on abortion that the U.S. Supreme Court later struck down as unconstitutional.
They voted in July to confirm 53-year-old John Bush as a U.S. circuit judge. He had compared abortion to slavery and referred to them as the “two greatest tragedies in our country.”
They voted in October to confirm Amy Coney Barrett, then 45, to the 7th Circuit. She had suggested Roe v. Wade was an “erroneous decision” and called the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit “an assault on religious liberty.”
They voted in August to confirm Kevin Newsom, then 44, to the 11th Circuit. He had equated the rationale of Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott v. Sandford, the 1857 Supreme Court decision upholding slavery.
They voted in December to confirm Leonard Steven Grasz, 56, as a U.S. circuit judge. He had compared the “personhood” of fetuses to the civil rights of Native Americans and African-Americans. He’d also argued that lower courts should be able to overrule Supreme Court decisions on abortion rights because “abortion jurisprudence is, to a significant extent, a word game.”
I have been a strong proponent of measures to promote and protect women’s health and expand all Americans’ access to quality health care. Sen. Susan Collins, who consistently votes for Trump's anti-choice judges
Ahead of Duncan’s vote, Planned Parenthood tweeted for days urging senators to vote no and highlighting how awful he would be for women’s reproductive rights. After he was confirmed, the group thanked Democrats for speaking out against Duncan, but said nothing about its GOP allies who voted yes.
Aides to Collins and Murkowski did not respond to requests for comment on how they square their pro-choice position with their votes for Trump’s judges.
Planned Parenthood did not respond to a request for comment.
What happened to being an LGBTQ ally?
It’s not just hypocrisy on abortion rights. Collins, Murkowski and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have cast themselves as allies to the LGBTQ community, yet they keep voting to confirm lifetime judges who are rabidly anti-gay.
Collins said in 2014 that she was “proud” to be an ally to the Human Rights Campaign, which endorsed Collins in her reelection campaign that year. Murkowski announced her support for same-sex marriage in 2013, and voted to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay troops in 2010, saying, “I’ve heard from Alaskans across the state who believe it’s time to end this discriminatory policy, and I agree with them.”
Portman, meanwhile, announced his support for same-sex marriage in 2013 after his son came out as gay. He followed that by voting for a bill to ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
All three of them voted in December to confirm James Ho as a U.S. circuit judge. Ho had donated thousands of pro bono hours to First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal group that takes up cases opposing LGBTQ rights. Its clients include the owners of Sweet Cakes, an Oregon bakery fined for refusing to serve a lesbian couple, and a newspaper editor fired for writing a post condemning the “LGBTQXYZ crowd and the Gaystapo” for trying to “make their sinful nature right with God.”
They all voted for Judge Bush, who criticized the State Department for modifying passport application forms to include same-sex parents.
They all voted for Judge Grasz, who, as chief deputy attorney general for Nebraska, opposed the recognition of same-sex marriages contracted in other states. He also used his role on a city of Omaha committee to push for an amendment to the city charter to allow employers to discriminate against LGBTQ employees by citing religious liberty.
And on Tuesday, they all voted for Duncan, who previously filed a brief on behalf of 15 states opposing nationwide marriage equality and led efforts to keep same-sex marriage bans in Louisiana and Virginia. He also represented the birth mother of three children who refused visitation rights to her former same-sex spouse.
The Human Rights Campaign torched the Senate for confirming Duncan and cast him as one of Trump’s most extreme anti-LGBTQ judicial nominees. But the group didn’t call out any of its supposed GOP allies for voting for him.
“In a string of anti-equality nominees from the Trump-Pence administration, Kyle Duncan stands out for his long career fighting to limit the legal protections for LGBTQ Americans,” David Stacy, HRC’s government affairs director, said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that the Senate has rubber stamped yet another unfit and extreme nominee to a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.”
Aides to Collins, Murkowski and Portman did not respond to requests for comment on how they square their support for LGBTQ rights with their votes for Trump’s judges.
The Human Rights Campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
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