Senate confirmation of a nominee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission usually is a formality, but Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is blocking President Trump’s renomination of Chai Feldblum for another five-year term because of her “radical views on marriage.”
The website LGBTQ Nation noted Feldblum is a lesbian whose father was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. She is one of three current EEOC commissioners, all of whom were nominated by President Obama. Two seats are vacant on the bipartisan panel.
On Wednesday, Lee followed through with a threat to object to Feldblum being reappointed by unanimous consent. The move means that Feldblum, a Democrat, and two Republican candidates must go through a lengthier process that will extend past the end of their terms Dec. 31. The EEOC, with three open seats, then will not have a quorum.
A congressional staffer told NBC News it’s unlikely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will extend the session for the EEOC nominations.
The federal agency administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, investigating discrimination complaints based on factors such as race, national origin and religion. The commission in 2011 added “sex-stereotyping” of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals as a form of sex discrimination illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The following year it expanded Title VII protection to transgender status and gender identity.
EEOC rulings, while not binding on courts, are persuasive. And the commission is empowered to file civil discrimination suits against employers on behalf of alleged victims and to adjudicate claims of discrimination brought against federal agencies.
Feldblum has advocated that sex discrimination in current law should be redefined to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
‘Not sure’ about institution of marriage
Lee charges in a statement on his Senate website that Feldblum might “use the might of government to stamp out traditional marriage supporters,” pointing out she has indicated she personally opposes marriage.
Feldblum has said, “I, for one, am not sure marriage is a normatively good institution.” And she believes “all of us are harmed … when society fails to acknowledge the wide array of non-marital social structures.”
She signed a manifesto in 2006 proposing government recognition of “diverse kinds” of partnerships that “move beyond the narrow confines of marriage politics” in the United States.
“Don’t think for a second that you, your family, and your neighbors will be left alone if Feldblum gets her way,” Lee wrote.
Lee pointed out that Feldblum was first nominated to the EEOC by President Obama in 2009, but she was not confirmed by the Senate. Obama bypassed the Senate by seating Feldblum with a temporary recess appointment. The Senate ultimately confirmed Feldblum on a 54-41 vote during a lame-duck session, with only two Republicans voting in favor of her.
GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis charged Lee’s opposition to Feldblum is “not based on merit” but on the senator’s “anti-LGBTQ beliefs.”
“Senator Lee’s open discrimination against Commissioner Feldblum is exactly why people like her belong on the EEOC,” she said.
“With many Americans seeking justice after surviving discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s imperative that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell force a Senate-wide vote and confirm Chai Feldblum,” said Ellis.
“One anti-LGBTQ activist should not silence many people seeking justice under the law.”
The Family Research Council, in a statement, said Trump should withdraw her nomination, insisting he could have found “a less radical choice to occupy a Democratic seat.”
Before her appointment to the EEOC, Feldblum was a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.
FRC noted she has been credited as the principal drafter of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a federal bill that would have prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual
orientation and, later, gender identity.