Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist is ‘nightmare of Christian Nationalism’

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is denouncing the new shortlist of future Supreme Court nominees announced yesterday by President Trump as a “nightmare of Christian Nationalism.”

FFRF has no confidence that most of these 20 named additions would decide cases based on legal principle rather than the Christian Nationalist ideology. A quick analysis shows they would likely toe the line against separation of state and church, reproductive rights and personal liberties protecting LGBTQ. They would be expected to redefine religious liberty as a license to discriminate, making conservative Christians a privileged class. During the announcement, Trump even warned about confirming judges who “will remove the words ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance.”

“We are concerned at FFRF that our Supreme Court may be lost for a generation if any of these nominees reaches the high court,” warns FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

The common threads among the nominees on the list include Federalist Society membership and activism, lack of experience on the bench, and a certain uniformity of gender and race to match the ideological uniformity. (The only Black American on the list, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, has no judicial experience and is only 34, absurdly young for a lifetime appointment on the high court.) Half have no judicial experience at all.

The trio of Christian Nationalist senators on the shortlist — Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, Sen. Tom Cotton, Ark., and Sen. Josh Hawley, Mo., of course, have no bench experience. Cruz infamously argued as Texas’ solicitor general that monuments to the Ten Commandments should remain on government property. Hawley has little legal experience of any kind beyond two years as Missouri attorney general, a tenure he publicly declared as “a form of ministry.” Cotton has an extremely minimal legal track record of any sort despite being a Harvard Law School grad.

Others on the new list of 20 names have disturbing Christian Nationalist tendencies, as did those on Trump’s original shortlists. Judge Bill Pryor has a particularly alarming record on Christian Nationalism, both from his time as an attorney in Alabama and as a judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He once preached to students at his private Catholic school and alma mater: “The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rooted in a Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of man. The challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective.” Pryor also authored a 2008 opinion that allows government officials to impose Christian prayers on any attendee at government meetings.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett first became a judge less than three years ago amid tough questioning because she repeatedly expressed the view that her Catholic faith may trump her secular duties as a judge.

Judge Sarah Pitlyk was confirmed less than a year ago, despite an “unqualified” rating by the American Bar Association. Pitlyk spent the two years before her nomination at the right-wing, uber-Catholic Thomas More Society, a theocratic law firm specializing in anti-abortion cases motivated by Catholic religious dogma — even equating contraception with abortion. Judge Greg Katsas was Trump’s White House Counsel three years ago, until his nomination was rushed through. Peter Phipps became a district court judge two years ago and a circuit court judge just over a year ago. Carlos Muñiz was the top lawyer in Trump and Secretary Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education until joining the Florida Supreme Court in January 2019.

S. Kyle Duncan didn’t become a judge until mid-2018. Now serving on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Duncan previously fought to uphold Louisiana’s gay marriage ban, defended the controversial North Carolina law against transgender students using washrooms corresponding to their preferred gender, and represented Hobby Lobby when it sued to deny employees insurance coverage for contraceptives it disapproved of. Duncan has worked as general counsel of the theocratic Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and is a virulent transphobic bigot. Lawrence VanDyke didn’t become a judge until this year (despite an “unqualified” rating by the American Bar Association). Before that he served as solicitor general of Montana, where he urged his state to support a 20-week abortion ban in another state. He has a history of promoting the teaching of creationism in public schools, which was declared unconstitutional more than 30 years ago.

Allison Jones Rushing has been a judge for less than two years and once interned at the Christian lobbying group Alliance Defending Freedom, where she wrote an article openly hostile to those she pejoratively labeled “village secularists.” She also endorses placing biblical edicts (the Ten Commandments) on government property.

Paul Clement, another name on the list with no judicial experience, argued in favor of Ten Commandments on government property in a case at the Supreme Court as solicitor general. He also represented Hobby Lobby in its notorious case weakening Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, allowing corporations to veto birth control choices by female workers. Most recently, Clement represented the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in the disastrous Espinoza case, forcing state taxpayers to help subsidize religiously segregated schools.

As an attorney, James Ho opposed FFRF’s fight to remove banners with bible verses from public school football games in Kountze, Texas, and was made a judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals less than three years ago. Along with Cruz, Ho penned an op-ed full of misleading history which condemned FFRF’s lawsuit against then-Gov. Rick Perry, who used a devastating drought to organize a government-endorsed all-day prayer rally.

People For the American Way has recently released a report showing how truly extreme Trump judges are compared to other judges historically considered conservative.

There has been a deliberate push to punish any questions in judicial confirmation hearings that touch on religion, part of a deliberate campaign to suffocate hard questions for judicial nominees like Barrett. FFRF and its membership need to speak up against any nominee whose religious beliefs jeopardize their impartiality as a judge. Senators not only can, but must, question judges who have claimed that their religion trumps their secular oath of office, as FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel has urged in his article, “Senators can and must ask nominees about religious beliefs.”

Here is the full list of the latest additions, according to SCOTUSBlog. Total years of judicial experience have been added.

• Bridget Bade (9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
8.5 years of judicial experience

• Daniel Cameron (Kentucky attorney general)
0 years judicial experience

• Paul Clement (former solicitor general of the United States)
0 years judicial experience

• Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)
0 years

• Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
0 years

• Stuart Kyle Duncan (5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
less than 2.5 years of judicial experience

• Steven Engel (Office of Legal Counsel, DOJ)
0 years

• Noel Francisco (former solicitor general of the United States)
0 years

• Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)
0 years

• James Ho (5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
less than 3 years of judicial experience

• Greg Katsas (U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit)
less than 3 years of judicial experience

• Barbara Lagoa (11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
14 years of judicial experience, 12 of which was appellate, state-level work

• Christopher Landau (U.S. ambassador to Mexico)
0 years

• Carlos Muñiz (Supreme Court of Florida)
1.5 years of judicial experience

• Martha Pacold (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois)
1 year of judicial experience

• Peter Phipps (3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
2 years of judicial experience

• Sarah Pitlyk (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri)
less than 1 year of judicial experience

• Allison Jones Rushing (4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
less than 2 years of judicial experience

• Kate Todd (deputy White House counsel)
0 years

• Lawrence Van Dyke (9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
0.5 years of judicial experience

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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