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Lawsuit: What Ties Does Trump’s Solicitor General Have to Hate Group?

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A lawsuit filed Tuesday seeks records detailing the relationship between the Department of Justice's fourth-highest-ranking official and a nationally recognized hate group.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday asks a federal court to order the Trump administration to disclose records detailing the relationship between Solicitor General Noel Francisco and the far-right religious litigation mill Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). 

Filed by the nonprofit legal organization Democracy Forward Foundation, the lawsuit is in response to what advocates allege is the administration’s refusal to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Democracy Forward Foundation in December 2017. That request sought documents and records relating to Francisco and any potential ongoing relationship with ADF.

Francisco worked as a private attorney for the firm Jones Day law firm prior to joining the Justice Department, where he provided pro bono legal services to ADF. The organization, which the Southern Poverty Law Firm has designated as a hate group for its anti-LGBTQ advocacy work, had listed Francisco as an “allied attorney,” a term reserved for lawyers who have done pro bono work for ADF and signed its Statement of Faith. That statement includes a “commitment to believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ, that God designed marriage for one man and one woman, and that homosexual behavior is ‘sinful and offensive to God,’” according to the Nation.

Solicitor General Francisco is the fourth-highest-ranking official in the Department of Justice. During his Senate confirmation process, Francisco failed to disclose his prior relationship with ADF. In an unusual move, in December, ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner shared almost half of her allotted time for U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case with Francisco. The case involves a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple on religious grounds. ADF and Francisco both urged the Roberts Court to side with the baker, arguing to greatly expand the rights of religious objectors from complying with civil rights laws. 

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The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on that case.  

Tuesday’s lawsuit follows a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar from Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce expressing concern that HHS is working closely with ADF in implementing a number of anti-civil rights initiatives by the administration, including efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

The administration has not yet responded to either Tuesday’s lawsuit or the letter from congressional Democrats.  

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