William Barr, Donald Trump’s nominee for his new Attorney General, began his confirmation hearing in the United States Senate this week.
Trump announced Barr as his nominee in December, following the resignation of former AG Jeff Sessions. Barr was formerly the Attorney General for President George H.W. Bush.
Almost immediately, Barr’s track record with LGBTI issues came under scrutiny. Many of these topics came up during the first day of Barr’s hearing.
Barr faced tough questions from both Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Unsurprisingly, it was all Democrats who pressed Barr on LGBTI topics. The discussion of LGBTI people in the country begins at the end of the hearing (a little past the 8-hour mark).
LGBTI as ‘immoral’
In 1995, Barr wrote an essay titled Legal Issues in a New Political Order. In the essay, Barr described the ‘homosexual movement’ as ‘one of the movements that is causing the erosion of morality in America’.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) brought this up while questioning Barr.
‘I can only gather, from the article I’m quoting, unless your opinions have changed, that you believe that being gay, or bisexual, lesbian, or transgender is immoral. Have your views changed on that?’ he asked.
Barr denied they’ve changed and replied: ‘If I had been voting on it at the time—my view is that under the law, under the Constitution, as I originally conceived it, before it was decided by the Supreme Court, marriage was to be regulated by the states.’
Booker continued to press as Barr deflected.
The AG nominee said he believes society should be ‘live and let live’ and ‘is perfectly fine’ with the law allowing same-sex marriage, but stressed he wants ‘accommodation for religion’.
Civil rights of LGBTI people
Booker and Barr’s back-and-forth continued, extending to the civil rights of LGBTI people.
When Booker brought up the Obama-era administration extending Title IX of the Civil Rights Act to sexual orientation and gender identity, Barr said he did not know what Booker was referring to.
Before the hearing could end, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) brought up civil rights again. She referenced the court case Zarda v. Altitude, in which two circuit courts found that the Civil Rights Act extends to sexual orientation in the workplace.
Trump’s Department of Justice, however, disagreed with these rulings.
Hirono asked Barr if he would appeal the DOJ’s stance to the Supreme Court if confirmed.
‘I think it is going up to the Supreme Court,’ he responded simply.
As Hirono pressed on, Barr deflected, saying his personal feelings are that there should be laws protecting LGBTI people from discrimination, but that he would not reevaluate the DOJ’s position because ‘there’s a difference between law and policy’.
Senate Democrats similarly pressed then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. He was still confirmed, however, as Republicans had — and continue to have — a majority in the Senate.