Harris Speaks Out Against Judicial Nominee with Anti-LGBTQ History
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris delivered remarks at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee where she spoke out against the nomination of Howard Nielson, Jr. to be United States District Judge for the District of Utah.
In California, Nielson previously represented proponents of Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage. When Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional in 2010, Nielson attempted to vacate the decision by arguing that the presiding judge should have recused himself due to his sexual orientation. Harris, who was Attorney General of California at the time, filed a motion against this request by Nielson, calling it “a thinly veiled attempt to disqualify judges based on their race, gender, religious affiliation, or in this case sexual orientation.” Nielson’s request was ultimately rejected.
“Mr. Nielson’s record reveals a background beyond that of an attorney just representing his clients,” Harris said. “Instead his actions raise serious concerns about whether he would be able to set aside his personal views to adjudicate cases in a fair and impartial manner.”
Harris recently pressed Nielson on his history of advocating against the rights of LGBTQ Americans at a Senate Judiciary Hearing to consider his nomination.
Full remarks by Harris below:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I also would like to speak on the nomination of Howard Nielson.
When I was Attorney General of California, Mr. Nielson represented supporters of Proposition 8, which was the ballot measure to amend California’s constitution to explicitly deny same-sex couples the right to marry.
As the Human Rights Campaign noted, Mr. Nielson’s defense “heavily relied on outdated science used to further stigmatize LGBTQ people as well as anti-LGBTQ arguments suggesting sexual orientation was a choice rather than an immutable characteristic.”
The district court dismissed those arguments and ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.
But what was particularly disturbing, and has been discussed this morning, is that, is was what Mr. Nielson did next.
He moved to vacate the court’s decision on the grounds that the presiding judge, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker, was in a committed, same-sex relationship—and therefore that his impartiality might reasonably be questioned because he had a personal interest in the outcome.
In opposition to his motion, my office then filed a brief stating that the request was nothing more than and I will quote my brief “a thinly veiled attempt to disqualify judges based on their race, gender, religious affiliation, or in this case sexual orientation.”
Some may argue that Mr. Nielson was simply presenting an argument on behalf of his client. And that this was him representing his client zealously.
But this was not an argument fairly based in the law, his argument at the time. And as I noted in my motion as the California Attorney General, and I’ll quote again “every single one of the attempts to disqualify judges on the basis of their race, gender, or religious affiliation has been rejected by other courts.” And as expect, as a result of our argument and the lack of merit of Mr. Nielson’s argument at the time – his motion was denied.
Unfortunately, this case was part of a troubling and longstanding pattern for this nominee. Mr. Nielson’s record reveals a background beyond that of an attorney just representing his clients. Instead his actions raise serious concerns about whether he would be able to set aside his personal views to adjudicate cases in a fair and impartial manner.
Further, it is my understanding that as a Department of Justice attorney, Mr. Nielson was part of a group of political appointees that politicized the hiring process at the DOJ. That hiring process led to the creation of a four-person screening committee that summarily rejected young attorneys who had worked for civil rights organizations or Democratic officials.
It is further my understanding that at the Department of Justice in the Office of Legal Counsel, he authored a memo that has been criticized for justifying torture, as has also been mentioned this morning—essentially he argued that Americans can legally torture civilians as long as they do so outside the United States. Beth Van Schaack, a Stanford Law professor an expert on war crimes, has called this “a crazy and dangerous theory.”
On the basis of all these points, I urge my colleagues to reject this nominee.
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