As acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Chad Readler has advocated on behalf of some of the Trump administration’s most heinous policies thus far. He’s about to be rewarded for that work with a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.
President Donald Trump nominated Readler last week to fill a vacancy on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Readler’s nomination to the circuit came in the fifteenth wave of judicial nominations from Trump.
It’s not hyperbole to say Trump and his Republican cohort have used their majority party status to pack the federal courts full of radical ideologues. Readler, with his background of fighting against immigration rights, LGBTQ rights, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), fits their mold perfectly.
Trump appointed Readler to the role of acting assistant attorney general in January 2017 as part of the president’s “beachhead team” at the Justice Department. Before that, Readler was a partner at the private law firm Jones Day in Columbus, Ohio. The firm played a prominent role in then-candidate Trump’s presence in the Rust Belt and served as then-candidate Trump’s campaign counsel, defeating an effort to get him taken off the primary ballot in New Hampshire.
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Readler represented Trump’s campaign in 2016 in a lawsuit accusing the campaign and its adviser Roger Stone of harassing and intimidating voters.
In addition to the Trump campaign, Readler also has disclosed the Republican National Committee, religiously affiliated health-care corporations, the University of Notre Dame, and voter-purge enthusiast Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted as former clients. Oddly enough, the Trump administration chose not to highlight that past work in a press release this week about the Sixth Circuit appointment, pointing instead to his (laudable!) pro bono work challenging death penalty convictions while in private practice.
Readler’s been busy since joining the Justice Department, though. He’s a chief legal defender of the administration’s Muslim ban. He’s helping his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, challenge sanctuary city policies in places like Philadelphia and San Francisco. He’s argued that California cannot oversee Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities operating in the state. He was involved with the revocation of naturalized citizenship in an immigration crackdown and defended the Christmas-holiday deportation of a gay Mexican seeking asylum, despite court orders on that asylum seeker’s behalf.
Readler also has a history of supporting anti-LGBTQ discrimination efforts. He signed off on the Justice Department’s declaration that Title VII does not protect against anti-gay employment discrimination and joined the administration’s amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop in support of Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who refuses to provide wedding cakes to same-sex couples and who was handed a nominal win earlier this month by the U.S. Supreme Court.
While at the Justice Department, he also defied a court order to identify the experts with whom the administration consulted before issuing its many stalled bans on trans people serving in the military, and he’s reversed course on the efforts of his predecessors at the Obama DOJ to stop the federal government’s defense of civil rights protections for trans people.
And just last week, Readler asked a federal court on behalf of the Trump administration to block enforcement of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions that protect those with pre-existing conditions. The argument is so extreme that other DOJ career attorneys withdrew from the case rather than have their name, and their law licenses, affiliated with the Trump administration’s position.
There is little, if anything, Democrats can do to stop Readler from eventually making it to the bench. They don’t have the votes to actually block the nomination. And even when they have tried to use what tools they have left to stall a nominee—like refusing to return a blue-slip, which would normally render a judicial nomination dead in the water—Senate Republicans have barreled on ahead with confirmation proceedings anyway, Senate traditions and norms be damned.
Conservatives are, quite simply, taking over the federal courts, just in time to decide some of the most important civil rights questions in years. Can your boss fire you for being gay? Just how far does the Constitution go to protect the rights of undocumented minors? Can evangelicals claim a First Amendment right to avoid complying with anti-discrimination laws? These questions are teed up in federal courts across the country, which leaves the answers to come from folks like Readler, should he be confirmed.
Trump’s nominees to the bench are overwhelmingly white and male. And they’re pretty young too, which means we’ll be living with the consequences of these appointments for decades.
We’ve seen the damage Readler is capable of inflicting in just over a year at the Department of Justice. Who knows how much he’ll inflict with a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.