Controversial Nominee Confirmed for Texas Federal Bench

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Donald Trump’s longest-delayed judicial nominee, a Texas attorney who faced criticism from Democrats about his record in court on cases involving gay rights issues.

Trump first announced Matthew Kacsmaryk’s nomination to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in September 2017, but Kacsmaryk had not received a floor vote in the nearly two years since.

Kacsmaryk has since 2014 served as deputy general counsel at the First Liberty Institute, a legal group that offers free representation to people raising religious liberty claims in court. The group says it is leading “the fight for religious liberty across every state and every generation of Americans.”

His time at the group has put him at the center of several high-profile clashes between gay rights and religious liberty, which has become an increasing flashpoint in federal courts in recent years.

This includes work on the case of a couple that owns a bakery in Oregon and refused to make a custom cake for a same-sex wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Oregon court’s decision upholding penalties imposed on the bakers under Oregon’s antidiscrimination laws.

Kacsmaryk also filed a friend of the court brief in the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which resulted in gay marriage becoming legal across the country. The brief Kacsmaryk filed warned the court that making gay marriage legal across the country could “inexorably result[] in additional violations of free speech rights,” saying the decision could pave a “road to potential tyranny.”

Kacsmaryk explained at his December 2017 nomination hearing that the brief was warning the court that it should be careful to protect the rights to people who have religious objections to gay marriage when deciding the case.

“We noted to the court the importance of protecting religious dissenters in the event that the court recognizes a constitutional right to same-sex marriage,” Kacsmaryk said at his nomination hearing.

Months after the Supreme Court handed down the decision, Kacsmaryk criticized the opinion as the justices finding “an unwritten ‘fundamental right’ to same-sex marriage hiding in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.”

Kacsmaryk also worked in opposition to policies allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice in schools and joined legal fights against the federal health care law’s contraceptive mandate.

In addition, he criticized the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sex, “sex stereotyping” and termination of pregnancy, saying the categories “are on a predictable and probable collision course with millennia-old religious beliefs about sex, sexuality and marriage.”

Democrats argued Kacsmaryk’s record in court and his public comments raise questions about whether he would treat gay litigants fairly and apply the Supreme Court’s precedents in the contentious area of law.

“This is a judge?” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “This is one who is weighing both sides carefully, who is giving equal consideration to plaintiffs and defendants? It’s unbelievable that this man has been nominated.”

Kacsmaryk earned confirmation with a 52-46 vote on Wednesday afternoon. Senator Susan Collins of Maine was the lone Republican to vote against Kacsmaryk.

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