Editorial: Biden needs to nominate LGBTQ judges

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday November 15, 2023
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President Joe Biden was greeted as he arrived at Moffett Field in September. Photo: Bill Wilson<br>
President Joe Biden was greeted as he arrived at Moffett Field in September. Photo: Bill Wilson

If LGBTQ voters need another reason to reelect President Joe Biden next year, we've got two words for you: federal judges. As we report this week, Biden recently celebrated the confirmation of his 150th federal judge, and while that is an important milestone, unfortunately, the number of lesbians and gay men who have been confirmed so far remains abysmally low at nine — including two in California.

On Wednesday, Biden named his 10th LGBTQ judicial nominee, lesbian attorney and UC Berkeley alumna Nicole Berner. To date, there have been no openly trans or nonbinary people nominated for federal judgeships.

With the likelihood of Republican former President Donald Trump becoming his party's nominee, it's critical that Biden win reelection — and the Democrats hold onto control in the U.S. Senate — so that federal judges continue to be nominated who are qualified and impartial. Too many right-wing federal judges were confirmed under Trump and his GOP predecessors, and they are now causing havoc in the courts.

In some cases they are upholding state bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth. In Texas, a conservative federal judge appointed by Republican former President George W. Bush has already ruled that businesses don't need to cover PrEP in their health plans. (That decision is currently under appeal.)

It's also important to understand that Trump is already making statements on the campaign trail that will have a chilling effect on many individuals should he return to the Oval Office. Axios reported this week that Trump's allies are pre-screening loyalists for a power grab to centralize and expand Trump's power at every level. "If Trump were to win, thousands of Trump-first loyalists would be ready for legal, judicial, defense, regulatory, and domestic policy jobs," Axios reports. "His inner circle plans to purge anyone viewed as hostile to the hard-edged, authoritarian-sounding plans he calls 'Agenda 47.'"

This agenda, featured on Trump's campaign website, runs the gamut from proposals stating "No Welfare for Illegal Aliens" to "Protecting Students from the Radical Left and Marxist Maniacs Infecting Educational Institutions." He also has a plan to "Protect Children from Left-Wing Gender Insanity." You get the picture.

This will no doubt extend to people Trump nominates to federal judgeships. You can be sure they will be super conservative and schooled in right-wing orthodoxy promulgated by organizations like the Heritage Foundation, which has a well-funded "Project 2025" that aims to build now for a "conservative victory through policy, personnel, and training," according to its website.

"It is not enough for conservatives to win elections," the website states. "If we are going to rescue the country from the grip of the radical Left, we need both a governing agenda and the right people in place, ready to carry this agenda out on day one of the next conservative administration."

Then there's Trump himself. He was unhinged delivering a Veterans Day speech, not only denigrating his opponents but also lambasting Americans of all stripes. He suggested that those on the other side pose a greater threat than countries such as Russia, China, and North Korea.

"We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections," Trump said, repeating his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. "They'll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream."

That, of course, is nonsense. Trump is the candidate who threatens democracy, as has been pointed out time and again ever since he lost in 2020. There was the January 6, 2021 insurrection, of which he was keenly aware. There are the 91 counts against him over four criminal indictments, including those related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. He will not stop at anything to get elected so that he can pardon himself.

He wants to see extreme conservatives nominated to the federal bench. All of this comes amid an atmosphere of deteriorating rights for LGBTQ people, who have often counted on the courts to remedy legislative wrongs. Well, we can say goodbye to that avenue if Trump is elected.

And make no mistake, his judicial nominees will sound reasonable at their Senate hearings, just as his three nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court did. Once the high court had its super-majority, one of the first things it did was overturn the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade in 2022. (In an interesting twist, all the states that have since had abortion-related items on their ballots have seen voters approve the right to reproductive freedom in one form or another, whether it's enshrining that right in state constitutions, like last year in California or last week in Ohio, or rejecting limits.)

Just as critical as seeing Trump defeated is Democrats holding on to their majority in the Senate, which approves federal judicial nominees. With the recent decision by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) not to seek reelection next year, that becomes a daunting task.

In the meantime, Biden needs to use this last year of his first term to diversify the federal bench. In his comments marking the 150th judicial confirmation, he recognized that more diversity is needed. We want to tell him that diversity includes qualified LGBTQ people.

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