In news that’s shocking to nobody, Senate Republicans have successfully put an unqualified, ideological, conservative Christian on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, making sure she can bend the law to their will for decades to come.
37-year-old Allison Jones Rushing once interned with the Christian Right group Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that opposes civil rights for LGBTQ people, and now she’ll have the opportunity to block efforts at equality on her own, for the rest of her life.
A number of church/state separation groups condemned her nomination months ago, but none of that mattered to the 53 Republicans who unanimously gave her a promotion. (All 44 Democrats who were present voted against her.)
In a letter signed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Secular Coalition for America, Center For Inquiry, and American Atheists back in October, the groups called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject her nomination for a number of reasons. Like other civil rights groups, they noted her lack of experience, the fact that she didn’t have the support of the American Bar Association, and her close ties with anti-LGBTQ hate groups. They also mentioned a handful of arguments that specifically got to the heart of church/state separation.
For example, she had “demonstrated hostility toward secular Americans.”
While working for ADF, she wrote a law review article called “Nothing To Stand On: ‘Offended Observers’ And The Ten Commandments” that argued those kinds of lawsuits should be tossed out because atheists didn’t deserve legal standing merely for being “offended” by those monuments. (Citing offense, however, is really the only way for atheists to challenge those monuments.)
In making her case, she pejoratively referred to church/state separation advocates as “village secularist[s],” “delicate plaintiffs with eggshell sensitivities,” and “weak.” Even if you gave her leeway on rhetoric, the gist of her argument was that atheists shouldn’t be allowed to bring forth cases against Christian monuments on government property. In her world, we couldn’t fight back against Nativity scenes outside City Hall or Ten Commandments monuments at State Capitol buildings.
… She cannot be trusted to give secularists, the ACLU, or other groups like the ACLU, including all the undersigned, a fair hearing in any Establishment Clause case.
The atheists also said she “reverse-engineers results that privilege religion and violate the Constitution.” That’s because she argued that allowing these cases to go to court allowed atheists to subvert the will of the people. What she didn’t say was that our side wins only if the other side is shown to have acted unconstitutionally. If the majority breaks the law, the minority has the right to challenge it in court.
That is, unless you live in Rushing’s world, where the Christian majority can push their views on the rest of us.
Rushing also said Christian monuments on government property were merely expressions of speech — and not establishments of religion — nor did she mention any of the myriad cases that showed her opinion was clearly not in the mainstream. She has no respect for legal precedent if it contradicts her personal religious beliefs.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State also had other reasons for opposing her confirmation:
During a 2013 panel discussion, Rushing indicated she opposed the ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, the Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which barred the federal government from recognizing the civil marriages of same-sex couples. Rushing praised the dissent by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who claimed that DOMA “did have a valid basis,” and she criticized the majority for choosing to “write the opinion in a unique way that calls it bigotry to believe that homosexuality does not comport with Judeo-Christian morality.”
With a hostile view of church-state separation, Rushing and other Trump appointees could change the balance of power on the 4th Circuit, which ruled favorably on several religious freedom cases recently. Earlier this year the 4th Circuit ruled in favor of AU and allies against Trump’s Muslim ban. Late last year, the court ruled that a Maryland public school district is not required to fund a student’s religious education. Also last year the 4th Circuit struck down a North Carolina county’s practice of opening its meetings with overwhelmingly Christian prayers.
Her confirmation is just proof that Republicans don’t give a damn about confirming good judges. They just want warm bodies who will rule the way conservative Christians want — experience and qualifications be damned. The younger, the better.
This will be Donald Trump‘s legacy no matter what comes of the criminal investigations against him. This is the reason so many white evangelicals are willing to look the other way no matter what Trump says or does. It’s because Republicans in power are shoving through as many bodies as they can for lifetime appointments to federal benches.
Elections alone won’t fix the problems they’re creating. Yet some people still think not voting for Democrats is a principled decision.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)