In a since-deleted Facebook post, Michael Farris, president of the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote today that the White House had called him “with information about the Kavanaugh-FBI investigation” not long after U.S. senators received the FBI’s report on the matter. Farris and his organization argued twice before the Supreme Court over the last session, and ADF has played a role in more than 50 other cases at the high court.
The FBI investigated Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh after professor Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he sexually assaulted her and after two other women reported incidents of sexual misconduct by Kavanaugh. It is not clear who at the White House contacted Farris or why they would be giving such information to him, particularly as he and his group are likely to argue in the future before the Supreme Court, which could include a Justice Kavanaugh.
One reason for alarm about Farris receiving private information from the White House about the Supreme Court confirmation process is that he and his group have argued before the high court several times before and are very likely to do so again, meaning they will be particularly affected by the nomination decision. ADF says it has played “a role in 54 victories” at the Supreme Court, and it won both cases that it argued there in the most recent session. In one case, Farris argued on behalf of ADF’s client in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of ADF’s client, NIFLA, a network of fake health clinics. The court also ruled in favor of another ADF client during the past session in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, determining that the commission had shown “hostility” to a Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The ruling was considered narrow and did not indicate how the court should rule on other cases regarding religious discrimination. The Department of Justice issued an unusual brief in favor of ADF’s client.
ADF will likely be before the Supreme Court again, potentially even this year. It is spearheading at least a half-dozen other cases regarding religious exemptions through the courts, and the group -- along with attorneys general from 16 states -- have asked the Supreme Court to take up its R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case. The case involves a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired after she came out as trans to her employer, a funeral home. According to CNN.com, “If the court takes up the case, it could have broader implications for the definition of sex-based discrimination” and “could impact case law that precludes firing anyone -- gay, straight or cisgender -- for not adhering to sex-based stereotypes.” With ADF’s record, it is extremely likely that Harris or one of its dozens of other cases will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court.
The Trump White House has long been cozy with ADF and other extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, and ADF has directly impacted anti-LGBTQ administration policies, actions, and guidelines including at the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Bureau of Prisons. Trump has also nominated several attorneys with ties to ADF for federal judgeships.
ADF has not publicly endorsed Kavanaugh and claims publicly that it does not “take a position on the merits of supreme court nominees,” but several anti-LGBTQ groups that it works closely with have vehemently advocated for him to be confirmed. These groups have claimed he “will be strong on [their] issues” and that he is “the right kind of judge.” They have even launched attacks on Ford and her story to defend their man. Other extreme anti-LGBTQ groups, including Liberty Counsel, are trying to push discriminatory policies through the courts, such as cases attempting to overturn protections for LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. They have been encouraged by the court’s decisions in NIFLA and Masterpiece Cakeshop and by the potential of a Justice Kavanaugh.
While it is not surprising that Farris and ADF are in contact with the White House about sensitive matters, it raises ethical questions for the White House to contact them with private information that will directly affect ADF’s work as the group continues to push for discriminatory policies through the courts. Farris’ deletion of the post only adds to those questions.
Research support provided by Carrie Resnick, part of the NARAL research team.
To learn more about the anti-LGBTQ positions of ADF, check out Media Matters’ interactive research book, “The extremism of anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom.”