Jeff Mateer, Texas’s first assistant attorney general, whom President Trump nominated for a federal judgeship, is drawing criticism for statements he has made about transgender children, same-sex marriage and conversion therapy. (Nathan Hunsinger/Dallas Morning News/AP) Before Jeff Mateer became President Trump’s nominee for federal judgeship in Texas, he fought a local ordinance extending equal protections to members of the LGBT community and said the separation of church and state does not exist in the Constitution.
But likely his most controversial statements were made in two 2015 speeches, in which he said transgender children are proof that “Satan’s plan is working” and same-sex marriage is a harbinger for “disgusting” practices such as polygamy and bestiality. He also appeared to advocate gay conversion therapy, a discredited practice banned by a handful of states and condemned by human rights and medical groups.
Those comments, which did not appear in media reports until CNN unearthed them last week, have outraged LGBT rights groups and drawn scrutiny to Mateer’s legal career as awaits a Senate confirmation hearing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.
), the top Democrat on the Senate committee that confirms judicial nominees, said Mateer’s “reprehensible” views about the LGBT community cast doubt on his ability to be fair and impartial.
Mateer has not responded to a request for comment.
In one of the speeches, titled “The Church and Homosexuality,” Mateer talked about a transgender first-grade girl who in 2013 sued a Colorado school for keeping her from using the bathroom for her gender.
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“Now I submit to you, a parent of three children who are now young adults: A first-grader really knows what their sexual identity [is]?” Mateer said in the May 2015 speech, according to CNN . “I mean, it just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.”
Mateer also said that allowing same-sex couples to marry could lead to other practices that bring the country “back to that time where debauchery rules.”
“I submit to you that there’ll be no line there.
… Why couldn’t four people want to get married? Why not one man and three women? Or three women and one man?” he said , adding later, “There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like, you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh, yes, it is.
Months later, in November 2015, Mateer gave another speech at a conference hosted by Kevin Swanson, a controversial pastor who suggested the death penalty as a punishment for homosexuality and recently said the country would be spared from God’s wrath in the form of Hurricane Irma if the Supreme Court banned abortion and same-sex marriage.
Mateer said, according to CNN : “Biblical counselors and therapists, we’ve seen cases in New Jersey and in California where folks have gotten in trouble because they gave biblical counseling and, you know, the issue is always, it’s same-sex. And if you’re giving conversion therapy, that’s been outlawed in at least two states and in some local areas. So they’re invading that area.”
Conversion therapy for minors has been banned in at least nine states and the District of Columbia . The practice has also been discredited by several medical organizations, including the American Psychiatric Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.
Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban the practice of “conversion therapy,” treatments that historically have targeted the LGBT community and claim to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
(Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post) Mateer’s nomination comes amid recent actions by the Trump administration that advocates say undermined the fight for equal rights for the LGBT community. Trump has reinstated the ban on transgender people in the military. His administration also has rolled back federal guidelines allowing transgender students to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity.
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The recent revelations on Mateer, Texas’s first assistant attorney general, have also raised questions about whether he disclosed his controversial comments to a vetting committee, as required by state law.
A bipartisan group of attorneys called the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee interviewed applicants and recommended candidates to the two U.S. senators from Texas, Sens.
John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
The two Republican senators then recommended possible nominees to Trump, who announced earlier this month that he is nominating Mateer and four others.
It’s unclear whether the vetting committee or Cornyn and Cruz knew of Mateer’s previous statements when they recommended him for the role.
David Prichard, a San Antonio attorney and chair of the committee, said confidentiality rules prevent him from saying whether Mateer disclosed his 2015 speeches, according to the San Antonio Express-News . But he added that Mateer’s past remarks will be a “fair topic” for the Senate to tackle. In her statement, Feinstein assured that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss Mateer’s history during his confirmation hearing, which has not been scheduled.
“This is going to be sorted out at the appropriate place,” Prichard told the Express-News.
“That’s why you have Senate hearings. That’s why you have a confirmation vote. … Let the chips fall where they may.”
Prichard has not responded to a call and email from The Washington Post. Cornyn, Cruz and the White House’s press staff also have not responded to requests for comment.
Groups such as the National Center for Transgender Equality, Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center have all called for the Trump administration to withdraw Mateer’s nomination, saying that someone with clear and extreme bias should not be a federal judge.
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“How dare he? How dare he talk about children this way?” Mara Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality’s executive director, said of Mateer’s comments about the transgender girl from Colorado.
Mateer, who received his law degree from Southern Methodist University, spent six years as the general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a Plano, Tex.-based religious liberty advocacy group. He fought legal battles to let a Christian baker refuse to accommodate gay patrons, to allow Christian prayers at local government meetings, to display a portrait of Jesus in a public school, and to keep “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, among other things.
He also has spoken openly about his view that the separation of church and state does not exist in the Constitution, quoting late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, who called the wall separating the two institutions a “misleading metaphor.
“I’ll hold up my $100 bill and say, ‘For the first student who can cite me the provision of the Constitution that guarantees the separation of church and state verbatim, I’ll give this $100 bill. It’s not there,” Mateer said in a 2013 speech. “The protections of the First Amendment protect us from government, not to cause government to persecute us because of our religious beliefs.”
Mateer became the second man in charge at Texas’s attorney general’s office in 2016. His appointment, while lauded by conservatives, drew ire from civil liberty groups.
The League of United Latin American Citizens in San Antonio said in an open letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that tapping Mateer is an indication that the state “is moving the church into public office” and is undermining civil rights gains of the LGBT community.
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“It’s a shame that Texas has elevated an attorney who has no respect for the rights of non-Christians to such a high office,” a group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State said of Mateer’s appointment to the state post. “We can only hope that in the course of litigating on behalf of the Lone Star State a judge or two will set him straight on the facts of church-state separation.”
Mateer is not the only Trump judicial nominee to draw scrutiny.
Two nominees are conservative bloggers who have written opinionated posts about politics.
John Bush, a Kentucky lawyer who blogged under a pseudonym and called Cruz a “sore loser,” was nominated to a federal appeals court seat.
Damien Schiff, a federal claims court nominee, called Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy a “ judicial prostitute ” in a blog post.
In defending his post, Schiff said it “was not to attack any person but rather to attack a certain style of judging.”
Stephen Schwartz, another federal claims court nominee, was criticized by civil rights groups for what they say was his “niche” legal practice of defending anti-transgender policies.
The Senate confirmed Bush in July. Schiff and Schwartz have not been confirmed.
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