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Trump's newly confirmed federal judge has ties to anti-gay 'hate group'

Allison Jones Rushing was confirmed to a federal appeals court Tuesday. LGBTQ advocates have expressed concern over her ties to the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Image: Allison Jones Rushing
Allison Jones Rushing arrives at a Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing on her nomination to be a United States circuit judge for the Fourth Circuit in Washington on Oct. 17, 2018.Yuri Gripas / Reuters file

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Allison Jones Rushing to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, handing the 36-year-old judge a lifetime seat on one of the nation’s top courts. While Rushing made headlines for becoming one of the youngest and least experienced members of the federal judiciary, she also garnered attention because of her decadelong association with one of the most well-known anti-gay groups.

“Throughout her brief legal career, Allison Rushing has supported and closely associated herself with one of the most extreme anti-LGBT organizations operating in this country today, the Alliance Defending Freedom,” Ian Wilhite, a spokesperson for LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal, said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Rather than disqualifying her from consideration, this aspect of her record seems to have made up for all of the other deficiencies in her record.”

The 4th Circuit Court, which sits one level below the Supreme Court, covers West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. Lambda Legal estimates there are roughly 1 million LGBTQ people who live in those states.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, has a long track record of opposing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Founded in 1994, the conservative Christian legal group was designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ ideology, including its efforts to ban same-sex marriage and recriminalize homosexuality domestically and abroad.

“They’ve been on the opposing side of almost every issue area we have litigated over the past 10 years,” Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said.

Over the past decade, the ADF helped lawmakers draft same-sex marriage bans passed in states such as Idaho and South Carolina, and, more recently, so-called bathroom bills targeting transgender people in states like North Carolina.

After much of the ADF’s legal work on gay marriage was wiped out by the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the United States, the group shifted its advocacy toward “religious liberty” cases. It argued successfully that the conservative craft company Hobby Lobby and corporations like it can refuse to insure contraceptives for their employees. The group also won a narrow Supreme Court victory for Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple due to his religious beliefs.

In an almost 70-page, publicly available questionnaire, in which Rushing answered queries from senators as part of the confirmation process, the Alliance Defending Freedom” and ADF were mentioned 138 times. In response to several questions regarding her ties to the group and its anti-LGBTQ legal agenda, Rushing provided vague responses and distanced herself from the organization.

“As regards the alleged positions attributed to ADF, I am not aware of all of ADF’s policy or litigating positions, and for those positions of which I am aware, I do not recall when I learned of them,” Rushing said in response to four separate questions about the group’s stance on LGBTQ issues. “I do not work for ADF or have any official role with them.”

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., asked if Rushing had ever in any way lent assistance to the ADF’s advocacy against same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights, to which Rushing responded “no.”

While Rushing does not hold an official role with the ADF, she interned for the group as a law student in the summer of 2005, authored amicus briefs for clients in support of the ADF’s positions on at least three cases, co-authored a legal brief about religious liberties with an ADF attorney, and spoke at ADF events at least once a year from 2012 to 2017.

In response to several questions regarding the ADF’s “hate group” label, Rushing provided the same response.

“Hate is wrong, and it should have no place in our society,” she wrote. “In my experience with ADF, I have not witnessed anyone expressing or advocating hate. A number of leading Supreme Court practitioners at well-regarded national law firms work with ADF. Members of Congress, including members of this Committee, have filed amicus briefs in the Supreme Court supporting ADF’s positions. I do not think members of this Committee or large reputable law firms would work with a hate group. I certainly would not.”

To a question about whether she would recuse herself from ADF-related cases, Rushing declined to commit: “I would determine the appropriate action with the input of the parties, consultation of these rules and ethical canons, and consultation with my colleagues.”

When asked what LGBTQ issues could appear before the 4th Circuit, Lambda Legal’s Wilhite and Buchert said the court could one day hear cases on President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban, the Pentagon’s new “deploy or get out” policy that advocates say forces people living with HIV out of the military, and the constitutionality of other “bathroom bills” that are routinely proposed in state legislatures.

In several answers, Rushing said Supreme Court precedents on LGBTQ issues like United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage across the U.S., are all “settled law” for lower courts like the 4th Circuit.