What Does Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Mean For LGBT Rights?

Judge Neil Gorsuch currently sits on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

President Trump has announced Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, filling the seat left by archconservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February.

The president was initially going to reveal his choice on Thursday, but insiders believe he moved up the announcement to deflect attention away from his controversial immigration ban.

Denver, November 20, 2006. Byron White United States Courthouse, 1823 Stout St: Swearing in of Coloradan Neil M. Gorsuch as the newest member of the, United States Court Of Appeals For The Tenth Circuit, with his wife Louise Gorsuch, holding the bible, and his two daughters, Belinda Gorsuch age 4, and Emma Gorsuch age 6. (Denver Post Photo By John Prieto)
Denver Post Photo By John Prieto

Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Harvard Law grad, currently sits on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and has garnered a reputation for being cerebral and diplomatic. While definitely a conservative—he opposed requiring employers to provide birth control coverage to women under Obamacare—he has not issued any rulings directly on LGBT rights.

As a lawyer, though, he wrote in the National Review that “American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box, as the primary means of effecting their social agenda on everything from gay marriage to assisted suicide to the use of vouchers for private-school education.”

That was in 2005, the same year Gorsuch was made an associate attorney general under George W. Bush. A year later, he was appointed to the Court of Appeals. In 2015, he joined an opinion rejecting a transgender inmate’s request for hormone treatment and feminine clothing.

But when Gorsuch’s law clerk Joshua Goodbaum married his husband in 2014, he received a rather heartfelt congratulations.

“He said, ‘This is a wonderful thing. You’ll see how your relationship grows,’” Goodbaum recalled. Now an attorney in Connecticut, he added, “I have never felt the least whiff from him of homophobia or intolerance toward gay people.”

How Democrats will respond to his nomination is unclear: After Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings for President Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, Dems vowed to filibuster any GOP pick for the high court. But given the big slog ahead, they may decide to save their strength for the next battle.

bill pryor 2

Judge William Pryor, who was also on Trump’s short list, would have been the most divisive pick: He has attacked Roe v. Wade as “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history,” and opposed a challenge to Florida’s ban on gay adoptions.

As Attorney General of Alabama, Pryor supported the state’s sodomy law, claiming “States should remain free to protect the moral standards of their communities through legislation that prohibits homosexual sodomy.” (Oddly, in 2011, Pryor did rule in favor of a transgender woman who said she was fired because of her gender identity.)

Pryor was initially an odds-on favorite for the seat—he’s a protégé of Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The high court may hear several cases relating to LGBT rights in the near future, including job discrimination suits and attempts to roll back marriage equality. One case definitely going before the justices is that of Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old in Virginia who suing his school for the right to use facilities that match his gender identity.

“Judge Gorsuch may very well be the decisive vote in these cases and others, and his extreme record suggests he could roll back the tremendous progress our country has made towards recognizing the fundamental rights LGBT people and everyone living with HIV,” said Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal.

“While any nominee would be difficult to accept given that this is a seat stolen from a democratically-elected president, we believe that Judge Gorsuch is an especially dangerous jurist to place on the highest court in the land.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.