For many of us who have lived through a decades-long fight for recognition and public condemnation of sexual harassment and abuse, there is no denying the power of the “#MeToo Moment.” Strengthened by the realization that they are not alone, and that there can be real consequences for abusers, women are coming forward in droves to speak out against mistreatment that for years was shrouded in silence and shame. This is undeniably a good thing.
Yet despite the real power of “#MeToo,” despite the swift fall from grace of powerful men who have lost jobs and respect, despite the growing number of lawmakers making the right noises about sexual harassment, some important gauges of progress haven’t moved – and may even be drifting backward.
It’s not just that President Trump was elected to the White House despite allegations of sexual harassment by numerous women. It’s that Trump is nominating to all-important federal judgeships, as well as placing on his short list for future U.S. Supreme Court vacancies, individuals who are stuck in a time warp where women’s inequality and second-class citizenship live on. This is true even when we leave aside the issue of reproductive rights, which deserves its own discussion.
And while President Trump will be out of office one day, he has the ability to seat federal judges who have shown little regard for the scourges of sexual harassment and discrimination, and who will serve for life. These judges will have the power to turn back the clock for women all across America – for decades.
Here are just a few examples:
· William Pryor, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit who is on the Trump SCOTUS short list, has argued to bar victims of gender-motivated violence from having their day in court. He also ruled to limit a woman’s ability to sue employers for gender-based pay discrimination when the Lilly Ledbetter case came before the Eleventh Circuit.
· Another SCOTUS short-lister, Eighth Circuit judge Steven Colloton, wanted to deny access to a jury trial to a woman who was fired after she reported on-the-job sexual harassment.
· Minnesota State Supreme Court Justice David Stras, a short-lister whom Trump also nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, argued to prevent expert testimony on behavior of the victims of sexual assault — testimony that is vital in many rape convictions.
· Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, once wrote that he resists “talk of ‘glass ceilings,’ pay equity… the need to place kids in the care of rented strangers, sexual discrimination/harassment and the need for better ‘working conditions’ for women (read: more government.)” On Texas’s high court, Willett ruled to weaken laws that protect women against discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
· Kevin Newsom, whom Trump placed on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, filed an amicus brief arguing that retaliation claims should not be considered under Title IX — in this case, arguing that a school could fire a girls’ basketball coach because he called for equal treatment for his team.
· Damien Schiff, whom Trump nominated to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, is a lawyer for the ultraconservative Pacific Legal Foundation and once brought a lawsuit challenging the application of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity, to high school students. Stunningly, Schiff claimed that “Congress had absolutely no evidence before it enacted Title IX that there was sexual discrimination going on.”
· Thomas Farr, nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, defended the Pfizer company in a suit brought by a woman against a supervisor who called women workers “stupid, retarded, and awful,” suggested that he would go to the employee’s hotel room to “help [her] pick [her] panties off the floor,” and made the statement that “women with children should be at home and not employed in the workplace.”
Professor Anita Hill, the woman whose groundbreaking testimony on Capitol Hill introduced the phrase “sexual harassment” into the lexicon, recently told the Washington Post that she believes that attitudes toward sexual harassment have evolved. But she also said that just “having somebody come forward is not enough. You’ve got to be able to come into a system that respects and values our experiences and our work and our integrity. And we’re not there yet.”
She’s right. Based on what we’ve seen, many of President Trump’s judicial nominees want to make sure we never get there.