A Senate committee Thursday approved the nomination of openly gay law professor Chai Feldblum to serve as a member of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The nomination now goes to the full Senate, where it could still face opposition.
Right-wing groups turned up the volume on their opposition to the nomination in recent days.
Focus on the Family, the Traditional Values Coalition, the Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association, and a number of other ultraconservative groups signed onto a Dec. 8 letter to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, saying they ''strongly oppose'' Feldblum's nomination. They cited a number of concerns, the biggest of which appeared to be that Feldblum believes that religious institutions that engage in commercial activities in the public realm must adhere to anti-discrimination laws.
Concerned Women for America, on its website, says Feldblum ''represents one of the most serious threats to religious freedom we have seen in a long time.'' The Traditional Values Coalition urged its members to call Senate Committee members to oppose the nomination.
But there was no indication that any debate about Feldblum's nomination took place by committee members prior to the vote. The committee members took their vote not on Feldblum's nomination individually but as part of a slate of eight nominees for EEOC and other agencies. Committee Chairman Tom Harkin's office issued a press release saying that the vote was taken ''off the Senate floor in between votes'' on the health reform bill amendments in order to ''accommodate members' schedules.''
Feldblum, a longtime gay legal activist, has been a key player in the development of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with HIV and other disabilities. She has decidedly liberal credentials, having clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, served as legislative counsel to the ACLU, and worked as a consultant to the Human Rights Campaign. But she also is professor of law at the prestigious Georgetown University School of Law, where she helped found the Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic. Through that clinic, she helped provide representation to Catholic Charities USA. Her nomination has also been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Society of Resource Management.
Clearing the committee vote, while important, does not guarantee Feldblum's nomination clear sailing on the Senate floor. Republicans have, in fact, held up action on a number of Obama nominees this year by using a Senate rule that allows any senator to delay a vote on any nomination for any reason. Senators can create these delays anonymously and, given the ferocity of the right-wing organizational opposition to Feldblum's nomination, that prospect might be an attractive political move for any conservative senator. Already, Republicans have put holds on President Obama's nominees for Director of the Census, Surgeon General, and for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernecke's second term, among many others.
Should a senator place a hold on a nomination, the Senate will have to muster 60 votes in order to force the nomination to the floor.
The opposition to Feldblum began to surface soon after she was nominated, and some predicted there would be a grilling at her confirmation hearing last month. But no opposition surfaced at that hearing. Committee Chairman Harkin prompted Feldblum to address one criticism – that she had signed onto a 2006 statement that expressed a number of views on marriage, including support for polygamy.
''I do not support polygamy,'' said Feldblum. ''I am sorry I signed that document and I have asked that my name be removed.''
A position on the EEOC could put Feldblum in the position of being one of five commissioners to develop regulations for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), should that bill pass Congress.
© 2009 Keen News Service