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Legislation

Annual Report: Trump’s Strong Assault on Courts/LGBTQ Protections

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Today, Lambda Legal released the third edition of its annual report of judicial nominees revealing theextent to which the Trump-Pence administration, with the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has filled the federal judiciary with an unprecedented number of unqualified, extremist judges whose records reveal deep hostility for the rights of LGBT people, women, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations.

The 2019 report “Trump’s Judicial Assault on LGBT Protections: After Three Years of Trump Nominees, Bias and Bigotry Remain the Norm” found that the overall story remains the same: over 1 in 3 of Trump’s circuit court nominees (36%) have a demonstrated history of anti-LGBT bias.

“The damage that is being done to our federal judiciary may be this administration’s most lasting and dangerous legacy,” said Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal.

“Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues have commandeered the federal judiciary in service of a dangerous agenda that seeks to deny LGBT people and other vulnerable groups the promise of ‘equal justice under law.’  After three years of sustained attack on the integrity of our federal courts, our system of justice is now indisputably in a state of crisis,” added Jennings.

The report highlights the appointments of a large number of ideologically-driven nominees who have expressed hostility towards LGBT protections, including Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Steven Menashi, who denigrated Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, and who disparaged efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the policy banning open military service by LGB people.

Likewise, the report describes the troubling record of Lawrence VanDyke, recently confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who claimed that marriage equality harms children and society—a position he has repeatedly refused to disavow.

The American Bar Association rated VanDyke as “Not Qualified” in part due to concerns raised by 60 of VanDyke’s peers about his willingness to administer fair and impartial justice to LGBT litigants.

The report shows the unprecedented pace at which the Trump-Pence administration has been able to pack the courts with a large number of ultraconservative white men—almost all of whom are affiliated with the Federalist Society. Notably, 8 of the country’s 12 circuit courts are now made up of 25% or more of Trump-nominated judges.

As a result of the breakneck pace at which the Senate has confirmed these nominees, three circuit courts of appeals have “flipped” this year from a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents to a majority of judges appointed by Republican presidents.

“This is a fast-moving train wreck that—unless something is done now—could undermine civil rights protections for the next 40 years.” said Sasha Buchert, Senior Attorney at Lambda Legal. “An entire generation of LGBTQ people seeking their day in court could be facing judges who have made no secret about their hostility to the rights of LGBT people, women and immigrants.

“Indeed, many of them were nominated because of their hostility towards LGBT people, women and immigrants.”

The impact of these nominees is not hypothetical: for example, earlier this year, a Trump-nominated judge, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James Ho, wrote an opinion denying an incarcerated transgender woman medically necessary health care in which he refers to the litigant by the wrong pronoun throughout in a shameful display of disrespect for her identity. 

As the report concludes:

“The federal judiciary must remain an impartial institution that administers equal justice for all.  The United States Senate – Democrats and Republicans alike – owe it to the American people to be more than just a rubber stamp for every nominee that the Trump Administration puts forward for consideration. The Constitution’s language about advice and consent is not just a suggestion, but rather a constitutional obligation, particularly during this tenuous time in our nation’s history.

“Otherwise, the damage done to our constitutional democracy will be felt for many decades to come, and may be devastating to those who care about LGBT equality.”

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Legislation

Virgina Bans Controversial “Conversion Therapy” for LGBTQ Youth

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Photo by Kristel Hayes

RICHMOND — Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in Virginia now are protected from “conversion therapy,” after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a law banning the practice .

The therapy involves mental-health practitioners trying to get a person to change sexual orientation or gender identity, and it’s been widely discredited. Virginia resident Adam Trimmer, who’s been through the controversial practice, said his therapist told him his sexual orientation was the result of an overbearing mother and a distant father.

Trimmer, who now serves as Virginia ambassador for anti-conversion therapy group Born Perfect, said it almost ruined his relationships with his parents.

“Conversion therapy completely wrecked our family. It wrecked my identity, it wrecked our family, and you don’t want this to happen in your family,” he said. “The issue is not that your child is part of the LGBTQ community. They just need someone to talk to.”

Virginia now is the 20th state — and the first in the South — to outlaw the controversial practice. The ban takes effect July 1.

The conversion-therapy bill is considered a historic breakthrough for LGBTQ Southerners, according to the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. She said more than one-third of all LGBTQ Americans live in the South.

“This continues to be the part of the country where discrimination is most enshrined in state law,” she said, “or where we haven’t been able to have the breakthroughs in pro-LGBTQ equality and laws that we’ve seen in other parts of the country.”

Currently, 28 states don’t have any laws that protect the more than 13 million LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. Other landmark rights bills also passed Virginia’s House and Senate, and are on their way to the governor.

The text of the legislation, House Bill 386, is online at lis.virginia.gov, and a Williams Institute LGBTQ fact sheet is at williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu.

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Environment

House Passes Schiff’s Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act

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WASHINGTON D.C. – Rep. Adam Schiff has applauded the bipartisan passage of The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, which would add more than 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). The bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis with 231 Yeas and 183 Nays

Schiff first introduced this legislation in 2017, and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris introduced companion legislation in the Senate. It recently passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan basis.

To view a map of the proposed expansion under the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, click here

“I am thrilled that the House of Representatives has passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, legislation I have championed for nearly 20 years,” Congressman Schiff said. “Preservation of the open space in our communities is not only good for our environment, wildlife, and ecosystems, but it is beneficial for the health and well-being of residents of all ages. The Rim of the Valley corridor is an area of striking and breathtaking natural beauty, and we must do whatever we can to preserve that beauty for the benefit of LA residents, the millions each year who visit, and for generations to come.”

“Today’s vote in the House is a win for the Rim of the Valley Corridor and the millions of Los Angeles County residents living in the surrounding communities,” said Senator Feinstein. “Preserving this unspoiled terrain will protect sensitive habitat for California wildlife and open space to benefit local economies. I am glad that Congressman Schiff was able to pass it in the House and look forward to doing the same here in the Senate, where it has already advanced out of committee.”

“The Rim of the Valley corridor is home to some of Southern California’s most beautiful wildlife and landscapes,” said Senator Harris. “That is why we must take immediate steps to protect this area’s habitats and natural resources. I am grateful to Congressman Schiff for his leadership on this issue and I applaud the House of Representatives for prioritizing the preservation of this area so it can be enjoyed by future generations. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line.”

The proposed expansion is based on a six-year study of the region completed by the National Park Service in 2015. This legislation would expand the SMMNRA to include many, but not all, of the land included in the study. The lands included within the expansion will be known as the Rim of the Valley Unit and stretches from the Simi Hills and Santa Susanas to the Verdugos and on to the San Gabriel Mountains. The bill will enable NPS and the local community to better protect natural resources and habitats, and provide members of the community with improved access to nature for recreational and educational purposes.

To view the fact sheet about the legislation, click here.

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City

Significant Funding Announced for LA River Restoration Project

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reps. Adam Schiff, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Jimmy Gomez have applauded the first significant federal funding for the LA River Restoration Project, which will revitalize more than 700 acres of open space along a broad stretch of the Los Angeles River from Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles.

“The funding announced by the Army Corps of Engineers this week marks an important milestone in the decades-long effort to restore the Los Angeles River to its original natural beauty,” said Rep. Schiff. “I will continue working with the City of Los Angeles and the Corps to build further momentum on this project to revitalize the river’s aquatic ecosystem and provide much-needed green space for all Angelenos.”

“I am delighted that the Army Corps of Engineers’ Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan provides critical funding to revitalize the LA River,” said Rep. Roybal-Allard. “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I have fought hard to ensure the Army Corps has the funding it needs to move forward with this project, and I will keep up that fight in the years to come as we keep working to restore the river in our Southeast communities.  Restoring the LA River in the Southeast will improve the health and quality of life for families near the river, and provide these neighborhoods with much-needed new green space for recreation.”

“Strong federal investments toward revitalizing the Los Angeles River represent a major victory for our constituents, our city’s diverse communities, and the wildlife whose lives depend on the river’s ecosystem,” said Rep. Gomez. “The Los Angeles River provides us with a unique opportunity to prioritize green spaces for all Angelinos while also strengthening the river’s habitat connectivity. I deeply appreciate the efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to transform this historic waterway.”

“The L.A. River is an iconic treasure — a place that holds a special place in the history of our city and limitless potential for the future of our communities,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we will have the funding to help our river reach its full potential, restore an incredible natural habitat in the heart of Los Angeles, and connect more Angelenos to this remarkable resource in our own backyard.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Work Plan for Fiscal Year 2020, which includes $1.857 million for preconstruction engineering and design (PED) activities for the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project, the first federal funding since FY17 and FY16, when the project received $400,000 and $100,000, respectively, for PED activities.

In April 2019, Schiff, Roybal-Allard, Gomez, and 12 colleagues from the Los Angeles area urged the House Appropriations Committee to provide strong funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In the appropriations legislation that passed in December, Congress increased funding for the Corps by nearly 10% for Fiscal Year 2020—a 50% increase from the President’s budget request. This funding supports the Corps’ important ongoing civil works projects across the nation, including the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project.

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