The extreme anti-LGBTQ activists Trump is nominating to the federal bench

Trump has turned working against equal rights into a golden ticket to a federal judgeship.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber, File
CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber, File

A transgender first grade student is part of “Satan’s plan,” according to Jeff Mateer, a lawyer that Donald Trump wants to put on the federal bench. Mateer also defended “conversion therapy,” which claims to reduce same-sex attraction, and warned that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy, bestiality, and whatever the word is for a person marrying a plant.

If a same-sex couple is allowed to marry, Mateer claimed in a 2015 speech, “why couldn’t four people wanna get married? Why not one man and three women? Or three women and one man?” Then his speech got weirder. “There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets.”

Jeff Mateer (CREDIT: Screenshot from YouTube)
Jeff Mateer (CREDIT: Screenshot from YouTube)

Mateer, who currently serves as a senior attorney in the Texas attorney general’s office and previously was a senior executive in a Christian right legal shop, may be Trump’s most bombastically anti-LGBTQ nominee — even Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has expressed concerns about Mateer’s loose-tongued rhetoric — but he is hardly an outlier ideologically. To the contrary, ThinkProgress identified at least half-a-dozen Trump judicial nominees with explicitly anti-LGBTQ records. They include lawyers at major religious conservative law firms, private attorneys with practices focused on restricting equal rights, and outspoken opponents of marriage equality.


If you want to catch the eye of Trump’s judicial selection team, one of the quickest ways appears to be joining the fight against LGBTQ rights.

Indeed, Mateer, who worked as general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, isn’t even the only Trump nominee to work for this obscure Christian right law firm. Trump also named Matthew Kacsmaryk, First Liberty’s deputy general counsel, to a federal district court judgeship in Texas.

Kacsmaryk seems to be more cautious in his rhetoric than Mateer — he does not appear to have made any public statements accusing schoolchildren of being the work of the Devil — but his views are no less radical. In a 2015 op-ed in the National Catholic Register, for example, Kacsmaryk railed against legalized contraception, a no-fault divorce law signed by then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, and “the 1971 Model Penal Code, which eliminated legal penalties for fornication and adultery.”

He also endorsed the Catholic Church’s statement that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” and endorsed two Catholic bishops’ claim that the idea that transgender people exist is rooted in a “false idea.”


Kacsmaryk is joined by two federal appellate nominees, Kyle Duncan and Steven Grasz, both of whom also held leadership roles in anti-LGBTQ organizations.

Kyle Duncan (CREDIT: Screenshot from EWTN)

Kyle Duncan, who Trump nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, is the former general counsel to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — probably the most sophisticated religious conservative litigation shop in the nation.

At the most superficial level, Becket claims to be neutral on marriage equality — “the Becket Fund does not take a position on same-sex marriage as such,” it claims on its website. Yet it filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court claiming that extending equal marriage rights to same-sex couples would threaten religious liberty. And it’s filed multiple briefs on behalf of business owners claiming a right to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Since leaving Becket in 2014, moreover, a major component of Duncan’s private practice has been briefs asking the Supreme Court to limit LGBTQ rights. He unsuccessfully defended an Alabama Supreme Court decision stripping a lesbian woman of her parental rights. He represented a bloc of 15 states opposed to marriage equality. And he represented a school district that prohibited trans students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

Steven Grasz, who Trump nominated to the Eighth Circuit, sits on the board of the Nebraska Family Alliance, an organization where Grasz’s son Nate works as policy director. In a piece written by the younger Grasz, the Family Alliance defended “conversion therapy” and claimed that laws prohibiting it “suppress parental rights by prohibiting parents from choosing the therapy that’s right for their family.” The organization also publishes articles with titles like “How Jayson Found Help for Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction,” and claims that “the conclusion that marriage is the union of man and woman follows from a proper understanding of human nature.”


Meanwhile, a fifth Trump nominee, Michael Joseph Juneau, is an “allied attorney” with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a well-funded Christian right legal shop that the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a hate group. As an allied attorney, Juneau agreed to take pro bono cases on behalf of clients identified by the ADF. Among other things, ADF has suggested that homosexuality should be recriminalized and claimed that “the endgame of the homosexual legal agenda is unfettered sexual liberty and the silencing of all dissent.”

And a sixth nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, co-signed a 2015 letter to a group of Catholic bishops proclaiming that “we give witness that the Church’s teachings… on the meaning of human sexuality, the significance of sexual difference and the complementarity of men and women.” A statement which, at the very least, suggests that she opposes equal rights for LGBTQ individuals.

Looming over all of these nominees, of course, is Trump’s single most high-profile appointment — Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch, who occupies a seat on the Supreme Court that Senate Republicans held open for a year until Trump could fill it, quickly emerged as a crusader against LGBTQ rights after moving into his new office in Washington, DC. Gorsuch penned a dissent in Pavan v. Smith suggesting that a state can deny to same-sex married couples certain rights it affords to opposite-sex couples, and he’s written that business owners should have a sweeping power to defy laws they object to on religious grounds — a position with troubling implications for LGBTQ victims of discrimination.

If the Court gives business owners a right to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals — an issue that is currently before the Court — Gorsuch is all but certain to provide the key fifth vote in favor of this result. And if more justices leave the Court, Trump is likely to fill the seats with people quite similar to Gorsuch.

One of them could be Duncan. Or Grasz. Or Barrett.