The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm a 37-year-old Washington lawyer whose nomination for a lifetime appointment on a federal appeals court drew vociferous opposition from LGBTQ and civil rights groups.
Allison Rushing, a Williams and Connolly partner nominated to the federal bench by President Trump in August, was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit by a vote that split along party lines. All 53 Republicans voted for her, while the rest of the Senate voted against her, with the exception of three senators who were absent — Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
The court covers federal jurisdictions in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina and Maryland.
Rushing’s confirmation drew quick condemnation from Democrats and civil rights and LGBTQ groups. Many cited her internship with Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based conservative, Christian legal nonprofit, which played an integral role in recent Supreme Court cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which it defended the Colorado baker who fought for the right not to bake a cake for a gay wedding. ADF was also successful in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, securing a ruling that allowed companies to opt out of covering contraceptives for employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs. In addition, Rushing defended the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and said she supported the four conservative justices who dissented when the Supreme Court struck down the ruling in 2015.
“Today is a very difficult and disappointing day for the roughly 1 million LGBTQ people who live in the states covered by the Fourth Circuit, and for all people who care about courts that can treat all people with dignity and fairness,” Sharon McGowan, legal director of Lambda Legal, said in a statement.
Rushing’s nomination drew vocal opposition from a coalition of more than 200 civil rights organizations, the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, which is led by Vanita Gupta, who headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama.
“In their quest to remake the federal courts, Republicans rushed to confirm an inexperienced ideologue to a lifetime appointment in North Carolina despite her never having practiced there,” the coalition said in a statement. “Rushing has denounced marriage equality, opposed remedies for discriminatory lending practices, and rejected efforts to end housing discrimination against domestic and sexual violence survivors. Her record clearly shows she will not be a fair and independent judge — a reality with dire consequences for Fourth Circuit cases and the American people.”
In a letter sent to senators in October, the coalition described Rushing, who clerked for justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch, as an “ideological extremist” — the end result of what the group said was an effort to install a far-right judge in the 4th Circuit.
It noted Rushing’s internship at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC says the ADF has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the United States, defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad and linked homosexuality to pedophilia. In 2003, the group’s then-president, Alan Sears, who stepped down in 2017, wrote a book with another ADF colleague called “The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today,” according to the SPLC.
In a response sent to The Washington Post, the ADF said that the SPLC has been “discredited for decades by investigative journalists, charity watchdogs, and commentators as activist, partisan, and unreliable,” but it did not dispute the specifics of the group’s characterization.
“In Allison Jones Rushing, the Senate confirmed not only a highly qualified lawyer, but a woman of integrity, professional competence, and judicial demeanor,” senior counsel Tim Chandler said in a statement. “ADF works to preserve fundamental freedoms of speech, religion, and conscience for people from all walks of life.”
Republicans cheered Rushing’s confirmation.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called Rushing, a fellow Wake Forest and Duke Law School graduate, “one of the most prominent appellate lawyers in the nation.”
“I want to thank my Senate colleagues for voting to confirm Allison Jones Rushing to be a U.S. Circuit Court Judge for the Fourth Circuit,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said in a statement. “I’ve had the opportunity to get to know her through the nomination process and I know she’s going to do a great job.”
Rushing’s hearing was also the subject of bitter partisan rancor after Republicans scheduled it during a Senate recess in the fall. She did not respond to a request for comment sent to Williams and Connolly.