Mark Joseph Stern reports for Slate:
“NEW YORK—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit had a burning question for Donald Trump’s Department of Justice on Tuesday: What are you doing in our courthouse? By the end of the day, the answer still wasn’t clear. Something else was, though: The DOJ’s new anti-gay legal posture is not going to be received with open arms by the federal judiciary.
The Justice Department’s latest wound was fully self-inflicted, as Tuesday’s arguments in Zarda v. Altitude Express should not have involved the DOJ in the first place. The case revolves around a question of statutory interpretation: whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws anti-gay workplace discrimination. Title VII bars employment discrimination “because of sex,” which many federal courts have interpreted to encompass sexual orientation discrimination. The 2nd Circuit is not yet one of them, and Chief Judge Robert Katzmann signaled recently that he would like to change that. So on Tuesday, all of the judges convened to consider joining the chorus of courts that believe Title VII already prohibits anti-gay discrimination in the workplace.
It’s important to understand some background before getting further into how those arguments went. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided in 2015 that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination does protect gay employees. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department took no position on this question. But in late July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ DOJ unexpectedly filed an amicus brief in Zarda arguing that Title VII does not protect gay people. The 2nd Circuit had not solicited its input, making the brief both puzzling and gratuitous. Its purpose only became apparent in September, when the DOJ filed a similarly uninvited brief asserting that bakers have a free speech right not to serve same-sex couples. Both anti-gay briefs were startlingly incoherent, seemingly the product of political pandering rather than legal reasoning.
Regardless, the DOJ’s decision to weigh in on Zarda ensured that oral arguments would include the weird spectacle of one federal agency opposing another in court. That doesn’t happen often—and really shouldn’t happen—because the executive branch is expected to speak with one voice on legal affairs. But the EEOC’s commissioners serve fixed terms and haven’t gotten the memo placing politics above the law yet. And so they were not exactly delighted to see political appointees at the Justice Department trash their theories in court on Tuesday when the two agencies faced off over what it means to discriminate “because of sex.”
. . . .
That set the stage for Mooppan’s appearance, which, to put it mildly, did not go well at all. Chief Judge Katzmann immediately wanted to know: Why didn’t the DOJ defer to the EEOC on Title VII, as it normally does? Mooppan’s basic reply was that the Justice Department is the nation’s “largest employer”—meaning, in short, that it has an interest in retaining its capacity to fire gay people for being gay.
“What is the process with regard to the EEOC and the DOJ in terms of filing a brief?” Katzmann followed up.
“That’s a complicated question,” Mooppan responded.
“Try to help us,” Katzmann implored. He also wanted to know what career attorneys at the DOJ’s civil rights division think about the agency’s position. But Mooppan wouldn’t answer: “That’s not appropriate for me to disclose,” he told the judge. Katzmann looked alarmed. Judge Pooler jumped in: “Does the Justice Department sign off on a brief that EEOC intends to file?” she wondered.
“That’s not appropriate for me to disclose,” Mooppan repeated.
“It’s procedure, not internal deliberations,” Pooler responded.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Mooppan said again, stonewalling. Now a majority of the judges looked irritated. As a general rule, attorneys are supposed to answer questions posed by the court, not dodge them as though they’re taking the Fifth. It was a terrible start for Mooppan, and both Pooler and Katzmann looked genuinely perplexed that a DOJ attorney would show such blatant disrespect. Finally, Judge Dennis Jacobs broke the impasse: “I, for one, am prepared to proceed on the assumption that you’re here,” he said.”
Read the entire rather amazing, if disturbing, article at the link. Accounts of the daily doings of “Gonzo’s Justice” could be ripped right from the headlines of The Onion. But, sadly they aren’t. Every day that Gonzo serves in the office for which he is jaw-droppingly unaqualified diminishes the American legal system and our country as a whole.
Liz was right. She might even have understated the case against Gonzo. Happy to be retired. Pity those still at the DOJ. Move over, John Mitchell, you’ve got some real competition for “Worst Attorney General In Modern American History.” I feel like asking for a recount when Betsy De Vos allegedly edged out Gonzo for “Worst Cabinet Member!” Could it be Russian interference?