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Trump judicial nominee draws more scrutiny over anti-LGBT comments: ‘We discriminate’

Jeff Mateer, Texas’s first assistant attorney general, was nominated by President Trump for a federal judgeship. (Nathan Hunsinger/Dallas Morning News via AP)

Before Jeff Mateer became President Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship in Texas, he fought a local ordinance extending equal protections to members of the LGBT community and said the separation of church and state does not exist in the Constitution.

But likely among his most controversial statements — ones that surfaced in recent weeks since his nomination — were made in 2015 speeches, in which he openly talked about discriminating based on sexual orientation, said that transgender children are proof that “Satan’s plan is working,” described same-sex marriage as a harbinger for “disgusting” practices such as polygamy and bestiality, and advocated for conversion therapy.

In two speeches made during a November 2015 conference, Mateer bemoaned the existence of anti-discrimination policies in the workplace and described mandatory diversity training as “nothing less than brainwashing with the left’s agenda on LGBT.”

“Guess what, I attend a conservative Baptist church. We discriminate, right? On the basis of sexual orientation, we discriminate. Does that mean I can’t be a judge? In some states, I think that’s true, unfortunately,” Mateer said. “We’ve seen in others . . . lots of different professions where professions are creating codes of conduct that say you cannot discriminate and they have a broad definition of discrimination.”

Audio of the speeches surfaced last week when VICE News published an edited version. Mateer’s past statements about same-sex marriage and LGBT issues first appeared in the media when CNN unearthed them last month. But his explicit admission of discrimination came to light only recently.

The comments have outraged LGBT rights groups and drawn scrutiny to Mateer’s legal career as he awaits a Senate confirmation hearing.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate committee that confirms judicial nominees, said Mateer’s “reprehensible” views about the LGBT community cast doubt on his ability to be fair and impartial. Last week, 36 LGBT groups wrote a letter to senators urging them to demand withdrawal of Mateer’s nomination.

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The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office said Thursday that Mateer was unavailable for comment.

“It is a long standing tradition that Federal Judicial Nominees do not speak with the press and Mr. Mateer is honoring that tradition throughout the process,” the spokeswoman, Jennifer Speller, wrote in an email.

In another 2015 speech, titled “The Church and Homosexuality,” Mateer talked about a transgender first-grade girl who in 2013 sued a Colorado school for keeping her from using the bathroom for her gender.

“Now I submit to you, a parent of three children who are now young adults: A first-grader really knows what their sexual identity [is]?” Mateer said in the May 2015 speech, according to CNN. “I mean, it just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.”

Mateer also said that allowing same-sex couples to marry could lead to other practices that bring the country “back to that time where debauchery rules.”

“I submit to you that there’ll be no line there. … Why couldn’t four people want to get married? Why not one man and three women? Or three women and one man?” he said, adding later, “There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like, you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh, yes, it is.”

Months later, Mateer spoke at the November 2015 conference hosted by Kevin Swanson, a controversial pastor who suggested the death penalty as a punishment for homosexuality.

Mateer said, according to CNN: “Biblical counselors and therapists, we’ve seen cases in New Jersey and in California where folks have gotten in trouble because they gave biblical counseling and, you know, the issue is always, it’s same-sex. And if you’re giving conversion therapy, that’s been outlawed in at least two states and in some local areas. So they’re invading that area.”

Conversion therapy for minors has been banned in at least nine states and the District of Columbia. The practice has been discredited by several medical organizations, including the American Psychiatric Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.

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Mateer also lamented the religious community’s lack of representation in the Supreme Court, saying that there needs to be a Republican president “who does a good job at appointing people who believe the way we do.”

“How many evangelical Christians are on the U.S. Supreme Court? Zero. How many Protestants are on the U.S. Supreme Court? Zero,” he said at the conference.

Mateer’s nomination comes amid recent actions by the Trump administration that advocates say undermined the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community. Trump has reinstated the ban on transgender people in the military. His administration also has rolled back federal guidelines allowing transgender students to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity.

The recent revelations on Mateer, Texas’s first assistant attorney general, have also raised questions about whether he disclosed his controversial comments to a vetting committee, as required by state law.

A bipartisan group of attorneys called the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee interviewed applicants and recommended candidates to the two U.S. senators from Texas, Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. The two Republican senators then recommended possible nominees to Trump, who announced earlier this month that he is nominating Mateer and four others.

It’s unclear whether the vetting committee or Cornyn and Cruz knew of Mateer’s previous statements when they recommended him for the role.

David Prichard, a San Antonio attorney and chair of the committee, said confidentiality rules prevent him from saying whether Mateer disclosed his 2015 speeches, according to the San Antonio Express-News. But he added that Mateer’s past remarks will be a “fair topic” for the Senate to tackle. In her statement, Feinstein said that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss Mateer’s history during his confirmation hearing, which has not been scheduled.

“This is going to be sorted out at the appropriate place,” Prichard told the Express-News. “That’s why you have Senate hearings. That’s why you have a confirmation vote.”

Prichard, Cornyn and Cruz did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.

Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban the practice of “conversion therapy,” treatments that historically have targeted the LGBT community and claim to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

Groups such as the National Center for Transgender Equality, Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center have all called for the Trump administration to withdraw Mateer’s nomination, saying that someone with clear and extreme bias should not be a federal judge.

“How dare he? How dare he talk about children this way?” Mara Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality’s executive director, said of Mateer’s comments about the transgender girl from Colorado.

Mateer, who received his law degree from Southern Methodist University, spent six years as the general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a Plano, Tex.-based religious liberty advocacy group. He fought legal battles to let a Christian baker refuse to accommodate gay patrons, to allow Christian prayers at local government meetings, to display a portrait of Jesus in a public school, and to keep “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, among other things.

He also has spoken openly about his view that the separation of church and state does not exist in the Constitution, quoting late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, who called the wall separating the two institutions a “misleading metaphor.”

Mateer became the second person in charge at Texas’s attorney general’s office in 2016. His appointment was lauded by conservatives and drew ire from civil rights groups.

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“It’s a shame that Texas has elevated an attorney who has no respect for the rights of non-Christians to such a high office,” a group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State said at that time of Mateer’s appointment to the state post. “We can only hope that in the course of litigating on behalf of the Lone Star State a judge or two will set him straight on the facts of church-state separation.”

Mateer is not the only Trump judicial nominee to draw scrutiny.

Two nominees are conservative bloggers who have written opinionated posts about politics.

John Bush, a Kentucky lawyer who blogged under a pseudonym and called Cruz a “sore loser,” was nominated to a federal appeals court seat.

Damien Schiff, a federal claims court nominee, called Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy a “judicial prostitute” in a blog post. In defending his post, Schiff said it “was not to attack any person but rather to attack a certain style of judging.”

Stephen Schwartz, another federal claims court nominee, was criticized by civil rights groups for what they say was his “niche” legal practice of defending anti-transgender policies.

The Senate confirmed Bush in July. Schiff and Schwartz have not been confirmed.

This story, originally published on Sept. 25, has been updated.

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