Anti-Religious Freedom Advocate Confirmed to Federal Appeals Court

May 15, 2023
FLI Insider | Judicial Nominee

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

The U.S. Senate confirmed Bradley Garcia to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The Senate voted 53-40 to confirm Garcia, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel since early 2022.

Now that he’s on the influential D.C. Circuit, Garcia is in the position to decide major cases on religious liberty. But like many of President Biden’s nominees, Garcia’s record raises red flags. Mike Berry, First Liberty’s Vice President of External Affairs and Senior Counsel, said:

“Anyone who is openly hostile to religious liberty should not be a judge. President Biden’s judicial nominations continue to offer very little to inspire confidence that he is committed to upholding the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Garcia admitted during the confirmation process that he chose to take cases and argued against religious freedom. There are serious concerns whether Garcia will treat religious groups fairly and equally once he’s on the bench.

He challenged the First Amendment rights of religious schools to freely make employment decisions in the U.S. Supreme Court case Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru. If Garcia’s legal theories had been adopted by the court, the door would have opened wide for interference with the independent employment decisions of religious schools.

Garcia’s position was so extreme that seven justices—including liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer—rejected his legal arguments in the Court’s 7-2 decision.

At Garcia’s confirmation hearing last July, Garcia was called to answer about his role in that case. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said, “You were arguing against the Catholic elementary school and against, at least from their point of view, their religious freedom.” Garcia admitted he took a stance against religious freedom, saying, “I think that’s fair.”

After that disturbing exchange, other U.S. Senators sounded the alarm about the nominee. Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley of Iowa raised “concerns about his judicial philosophy, including his approach to religious liberty.” The senator added, “He litigated against Catholic elementary schools, arguing that federal courts have the power to intervene in employment disputes involving teachers responsible for instructing students in the faith.”

Subsequently, 10 Senate Judiciary Committee members voted against sending the nominee to the floor. Senate Majority Leader Schumer never scheduled Garcia for a vote by the full Senate during the last session of Congress.

The D.C. Circuit is often considered the second highest court in the country after the Supreme Court. More current and recent U.S. Supreme Court Justices have previously served on the D.C. Circuit than any other court. Garcia’s confirmation potentially puts him on a path to being nominated for the nation’s highest court.

In addition to Garcia, First Liberty has previously warned about several, radical appellate court picks who could soon be on the federal bench for life:

  • Rita Lin, nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. During a hearing last year, Lin admitted she had called Christians “bigots.” Lin once wrote in a 1998 article about a religious organization: “The problem with the Christian Coalition is…that they are bigots.” She also referred to Christians as “Bible thumpers.”
  • Julie Rikelman, nominee to the 1st Circuit. She is an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a liberal organization that argued for the Mississippi abortion clinic in Dobbs v. Jackson, the Supreme Court case that returned the power to regulate abortion to the states.
  • Nancy Abudu, nominee to the 11th Circuit. She previously worked as senior staff counsel with the ACLU. More recently, Abudu’s legal experience comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center, an infamous organization known for labeling political opponents as “hate groups” or “extremists.” A coalition of more than 50 individuals and organizations—including multiple religious groups—sent a letter to Senate leaders expressing their opposition and concern about her record.

Religious schools, ministries, houses of worship and individual Americans are confronting increasing attacks on their rights. Now, more than ever, our federal courts need judges who are committed the Constitution, the rule of law and the protection of our freedoms.

Americans who value religious freedom must be vigilant and stay informed. President Biden’s record of nominations so far is clear. He’s chosen multiple nominees who are hostile to religious liberty and who could unconstitutionally advance a liberal policy agenda from the federal bench. And more of them could be on the way. First Liberty will continue to provide you with the facts if any judicial nominees have a radical or unacceptable record.

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