Judicial ethics watchdogs are asking U.S. Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito to recuse themselves from cases concerning LGBTQ+ equality, after the justices posed for pictures with a hate group leader.
On October 29, Kavanaugh and Alito posed for photos with National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown. “Great day at U.S. Supreme Court,” Brown tweeted.
It’s unknown what brought Brown to the Supreme Court, but the justices are considering multiple cases concerning LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination right now. NOM, one of the leading proponents of California’s Proposition 8 and a referendum to prevent marriage equality in Taiwan, has filed an amicus brief in one of those cases.
In response, judicial reform group Take Back the Court, which advocates for adding additional justices to the bench, sent a letter to the pair asking them to recuse themselves from cases in which their impartiality is in doubt.
In his letter, Take Back the Court Director Aaron Belkin writes that Kavanaugh and Alito cannot be expected to be unbiased now that they have been photographed meeting with Brown while cases related to LGBTQ+ rights are still pending. The court is expected to rule in Bostock v. Clayton County, Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC next year.
“The credibility and impartiality of the current Supreme Court is in tatters,” Belkin writes. “Posing for photographs with the president of an advocacy organization that has filed briefs in matters pending before the court makes a mockery of Chief Justice Roberts' assertion that a judge's role is to impartially call balls and strikes.”
The Supreme Court is not bound by any code of ethics, although Chief Justice John Roberts has indicated his interest in creating one.
“If you refuse to recuse yourselves, this incident will further illustrate the urgent need for structural reform of the Supreme Court in order to restore a Court that understands its role is to protect individual rights and our democracy,” Belkin concludes.
Kavanaugh was confirmed last year after a contentious process in which he was credibly accused of sexual assault by three women. New allegations emerged in September of 2019. Kavanaugh served in the Bush administration at a time when the White House was pushing a constitutional ban on marriage equality. He has virtually no track record on LGBTQ+ issues following 10 years on the D.C. District Court.
Alito was nominated by George W. Bush. If they were to recuse themselves, the ideological balance of the court would tip 4-3 in favor of liberal justices.
Despite the name, NOM’s focus is more broad than just marriage. The group was founded in 2007 to oppose marriage equality, but today works to undermine LGBTQ+ equality across a wide spectrum of issues. The group opposes nondiscrimination laws, supports conversion therapy, and promotes other anti-LGBTQ+ organizations like Chick-fil-A.
Brown is also president of the International Congress of Families, which organizes internationally to oppose LGBTQ+ equality. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated ICF a hate group.