(CN) – With 11 judicial openings in its federal courts and a crushing caseload, Texas desperately needs to fill those seats. President Donald Trump has nominated five candidates, including two who will be grilled by the U.S. Senate about their work for a religious advocacy law firm.
Texas has the longest border of any U.S. state with Mexico and the dockets of the Southern District of Texas and Western District of Texas are swollen with illegal entry and re-entry prosecutions of immigrants arrested trying to come into the United States from Mexico, or getting caught without papers in Texas.
Prosecutions of people accused of trying to smuggle drugs across the border also occur with mind-numbing frequency in those districts, while the Eastern District of Texas is known as a hub of patent litigation, leading the nation with 36 percent of patent cases filed there in 2016.
Nominees Who Will Face Tough Questioning About Religious Views
Trump’s most controversial judicial pick for Texas is Jeff Mateer, first assistant to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whom Paxton praised after Trump announced his nomination in September.
“Jeff Mateer is a principled leader—a man of character—who has done an outstanding job for the state of Texas as first assistant attorney general. … Judges who rule by the Constitution and the law are desperately needed today, and I am confident a Judge Mateer will faithfully fulfill this duty,” Paxton said in a statement.
But critics from the LGBT community hold up Mateer as Exhibit A of how Trump – who called for a ban of transgender people in the military and whose administration dropped its defense in court of an Obama-era rule mandating that public schools let transgender students use the locker rooms and bathrooms of their chosen gender – is trying to get like-minded jurists into the federal courts.
Trump nominated Mateer for a bench in the Eastern District of Texas.
“Basically Trump’s attack on LGBT people has reached the courts,” said Eric Lesh, the fair courts project director for Lambda Legal, an LGBT advocacy law firm.
Mateer is the former general counsel and vice president of the religious legal group First Liberty Institute. During his tenure there, he reportedly said in speeches in 2015 that transgender children are “Satan’s plan” and compared same-sex marriage to bestiality.
Lesh said those remarks prove Mateer he is “uniquely unqualified” to be a federal judge.
The First Liberty Institute is based in Plano, a Dallas suburb, and it advocates for religious rights in litigation and at the local level. Lesh said that at First Liberty Institute, Mateer spoke out against proposed anti-LGBT discrimination ordinances in Plano and Waco, Texas and represented an ousted employee of Ford Motor Company.
Ford fired Thomas Banks in 2014 for violating its ant-discrimination policy after he posted a comment, stating in part that “Heterosexual behavior creates life — homosexual behavior leads to death,” in response to an article on the company’s intranet espousing inclusiveness of LGBT people.
“Mateer and First Liberty Institute represented him, claiming that saying homosexuality leads to death is part of his religious faith and that he was being punished by being fired for his deeply held religious beliefs,” Lesh said in a phone interview.