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Leonard Grasz and Mark Norris are Not Qualified to Serve as Judges—the Senate Must Reject Them

Uphold the United States Constitution—it’s a judge’s number one job. Yet, today the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering two Trump judicial nominees, Leonard Steven Grasz, nominated to serve on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Mark Norris, nominated to the District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, who almost certainly cannot be trusted to do that job. In fact, the alarming levels of bigotry and animus each has spewed throughout their career demonstrates they would actively work to undermine the Constitution, including longstanding constitutional protections for a woman’s right to decide whether to have an abortion.

Both men have dedicated much of their careers to undermining a woman’s right to decide whether to have an abortion.

Norris has spent the last 17 years as a Tennessee legislator trying to make it more difficult for women to access abortion. He has voted for pretty much every abortion restriction imaginable, or at least every one of the many antiabortion bills considered by the Tennessee General Assembly.  This includes an attempt to undermine the constitutional right to abortion by establishing legal rights for fertilized eggs. It also includes forcing two clinics in the state to close after imposing medically unnecessary hospital privileges requirements on abortion providers and requiring abortion clinics to meet the same licensure requirements of ambulatory surgical centers—the same types of restrictions later struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. And it includes imposing a mandatory delay of 48 hours on a woman who has already made the decision to get an abortion.

As Deputy Attorney General in the Nebraska Attorney General’s office, Grasz defended a host of abortion restrictions, often employing extreme  legal arguments and ignoring court precedent.  In one case, Grasz vigorously defended a state law that would ban a medically necessary abortion procedure. Grasz argued the case in the lower courts and despite losing, took the case to the Supreme Court. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional. In another case, Grasz argued for the Eighth Circuit to overturn its own precedent and to keep Medicaid enrollees who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest from obtaining abortion coverage.

And that’s not all.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Norris and Grasz’ extreme hostility to reproductive rights goes hand in hand with extreme hostility to LGBTQ rights. As a state legislator, Norris has also supported a host of bills intended to undermine or simply do away with antidiscrimination laws that protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and he has vehemently opposed same-sex marriage. Grasz brought the same extreme approach to LGBTQ rights, calling same-sex marriage a “grave danger” when he tried to encourage the state to pass legislation “expressly refusing to recognize same-sex marriages.”  And in his spare time, he sat on the board of an organization which has vigorously supported “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ youth.

Norris and Grasz are spectacularly unfit to sit on the federal bench.

These nominees are clearly unfit to serve on the federal bench. In Grasz’s case, the members of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated him “Not Qualified.” The Committee’s ratings of federal judicial nominees are based on the individual’s professional competence, integrity, and judicial temperament.  Grasz received the even more dubious distinction of an unanimous “Not Qualified” rating, with the ABA Committee’s statement characterizing him as lacking “open-mindedness” and being “gratuitously rude.”  (And a minority of the members on the ABA Committee rated Norris “Not Qualified” as well.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee must reject these nominees and call for the Administration to nominate judges that will actually do their job.