Grasz and Norris Don’t Deserve Lifetime Appointments on the Federal Bench

The Leadership Conference urges senators to oppose.

Tomorrow morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on four more of President Trump’s judicial nominees, including Leonard Steven Grasz of Nebraska to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and Mark Norris of Tennessee to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. Both men have deeply troubling records that indicate they would not uphold important civil rights laws and essential constitutional rights as federal judges should they be confirmed to serve in these lifetime appointments.

Yesterday, the American Bar Association (ABA), which conducts an objective, nonpartisan assessment of a nominee’s background and qualifications, announced that it had rated Grasz unanimously “Not Qualified” to serve as a federal judge. The ABA statement concluded: “In sum, the evaluators and the committee found that temperament issues, particularly bias and lack of open-mindedness, were problematic.” They also questioned Grasz’s ability to follow precedent, because his “passionately-held social agenda appeared to overwhelm and obscure the ability to exercise dispassionate and unbiased judgment.” This stunning assessment about the nominee’s bias is the result of interviews with the professionals who know Grasz best and it should send shock-waves across the country to think that this nomination would proceed after this assessment.

This is just the third unanimously “Not Qualified” rating the ABA has given in nearly 30 years, since 1989. The other two nominees unanimously rated “Not Qualified” were understandably not confirmed.

Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest and largest LGBT legal organization, has written that “Grasz’s appointment to the federal bench would cause grave harm to the LGBT community, as well as many other communities who rely on the federal judiciary to administer fair and impartial justice.” They’ve catalogued a number of serious concerns with Grasz, including his board membership on the anti-LGBT Nebraska Family Alliance, his view that marriage equality is a “threat,” his support of conversion therapy, and his opposition to legal protections for LGBT people. This extreme record helps explain what the ABA committee also heard when interviewing people in Nebraska.

Norris, the majority leader of the Tennessee State Senate for the past decade, has a similarly shocking record. According to the Alliance for Justice, Norris:

  • Fought against marriage equality and supported legislation that would allow mental health counselors to discriminate against LGBTQ clients;
  • Led the effort to prohibit local communities from removing Confederate monuments from public places;
  • Pushed for an amendment to a strict voter ID law that would have allowed election officials to require proof of citizenship to vote;
  • Was instrumental in weakening Memphis schools, which are attended largely by Black children;
  • Has made offensive statements about Muslims, suggesting that being Muslim is synonymous with being a terrorist; and
  • Pushed a bill that’s made it more difficult for workers to pursue compensation claims in Tennessee.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The report concludes that “Norris’s record is a virtual catalogue of biases and hostile acts aimed at numerous communities, including immigrants, LGBTQ persons, workers, women, people of color, and others who rely on the courts to uphold their rights.” That is not the record of a fair and impartial person — the kind of person we need on the federal bench to uphold the law.

The committee’s consideration of these nominees comes during a week when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is jamming through four controversial circuit court nominees on the Senate floor. President Trump is losing in courts all across the country, so he’s trying to change the courts — and quickly. McConnell and Senate Republicans — who last year obstructed Judge Merrick Garland and dozens of President Obama’s lower court nominees — are now enabling Trump by serving as a rubber stamp for his extreme nominees who will affirm his assault on civil and human rights.

Yesterday, a federal district court ruled against Trump’s transgender military ban, and earlier this month two federal district court judges ruled against Trump’s discriminatory and unconstitutional travel ban, further demonstrating the importance of fair-minded and independent federal judges. Based on their records and reputations, The Leadership Conference does not believe either Grasz or Norris would be fair-minded or independent on the federal bench and should not be confirmed. The time is now for all senators to uphold their vital constitutional role in the judicial nominations process and exercise their own independent judgment about the fitness of these two controversial men to serve as impartial judges. The Leadership Conference urges them to withhold their consent and oppose confirmation.


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Vanita Gupta

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President and CEO of @civilrightsorg. Former head of USDOJ Civil Rights Division.