The Trump administration’s assault on LGBTQ rights scored a major victory on Thursday when the Senate confirmed John K. Bush to the powerful 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Bush, perhaps Trump’s most controversial nominee to the lower courts, has a long history of making homophobic and sexist comments during his years as an anonymous blogger. Yet every Republican senator (except the absent John McCain) voted to confirm him. Bush, who is 52, will serve a lifetime appointment.
Bush’s record overflows with offensive, archaic, and bizarre comments, many directed toward women and sexual minorities. In 2005, he used the word “faggot” in a speech to a private club, quoting Hunter S. Thompson. In 2008, he referred to then–Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as “Mama Pelosi” and urged Congress to “gag the House speaker.” When the State Department introduced gender-neutral passport applications to accommodate same-sex couples, Bush complained in a 2011 blog post that the move was worthy of “outrage”—though “not Obamacare-level outrage.” He added that the change means “both parents are subservient to the nanny state—more precisely, a nanny Secretary of State.” Bush also credulously reported a story from World Net Daily, the discredited promulgator of birther conspiracies, alleging that then-Sen. Barack Obama played a role in the detention of a WND reporter in Kenya who’d been investigating the future president’s half-brother.
Unsurprisingly, Bush’s stated attitude toward constitutional jurisprudence aligns neatly with his personal values. In 1993, he wrote an amicus brief on behalf of a conservative group opposing the admission of women into the Virginia Military Institute, asserting that VMI “does not appear to be compatible with the somewhat different developmental needs of most young women.” In 2008, he compared abortion to slavery, juxtaposing Dred Scott with Roe v. Wade and writing, “The two greatest tragedies in our country—slavery and abortion—relied on similar reasoning and activist justices at the U.S. Supreme Court.” In a 2016 paper, Bush bemoaned the Kentucky Supreme Court’s protection of same-sex intimacy, criticizing a 1992 ruling which “immunized consensual sodomy from criminal prosecution under the state constitution.”
During his confirmation hearings, Bush repeatedly misrepresented his previous statements, tiptoeing right up to perjury. Twenty-seven LGBTQ rights groups signed a letter opposing his nomination while both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America urged moderate Republican senators to vote no. But in the end, Republicans followed the party line and elevated Bush to the 6th Circuit by a margin of 51–47. (In addition to McCain, Democrat Debbie Stabenow also did not vote.)
Thursday’s confirmation vote provides a reminder of the Trump administration’s vigorously anti-LGBTQ stance. Trump himself may or may not hold animus toward sexual and gender minorities, but his Cabinet, advisers, and allies in Congress are working sedulously to reverse progress on LGBTQ rights. Once Trump stacks the federal courts with reactionary activists, his judges can chip away at landmark rulings protecting marriage equality and the broader rights of same-sex couples. Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court justice, has already signaled his eagerness to reconsider gay rights. Judges like Bush can help to weaken gay-friendly precedent in the lower courts, making them more vulnerable to reversal.
In the coming days, the Senate will also vote on Damien Schiff’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which considers environmental and regulatory lawsuits. Schiff has written that the Constitution does not bar states from criminalizing homosexuality. He also declared in 2009 that a California law prohibiting bullying wrongly taught “that the homosexual lifestyle is a good, and that homosexual families are the moral equivalent of traditional heterosexual families.” His article was entitled “Teaching ‘Gayness’ in Public Schools.”
Every Republican in the Senate is expected to vote for Schiff’s confirmation.