Bench Memos

Politics & Policy

Activists Smear Allison Jones Rushing

Allison Jones Rushing testifies before a Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing on her nomination to be a United States circuit judge for the Fourth Circuit, October 17, 2018. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

In the judicial-nominee process, smear attacks have replaced substantive discourse. Allison Jones Rushing is just the latest victim.

Rushing was recently confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by a 53-44 vote. This party-line vote is indicative of the confirmation process in recent years, which has dissolved into a morass of bitter mudslinging. Never mind her impeccable credentials, Rushing was labeled an “ideological extremist” and lambasted for a summer internship with a supposed “hate group.”

Reality is much less scandalous.

A native of North Carolina, Rushing excelled at Wake Forest University and at Duke Law School. She clerked for three of the most preeminent federal judges in the country, including then-Judge Neil Gorsuch and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She then joined and subsequently became a partner at Williams & Connolly, recognized as the most selective law firm in the United States. Accolades have followed her throughout her education and career, and justifiably so.

Rushing also has an impressive record of pro-bono legal service. She successfully represented a military veteran seeking education benefits, helped numerous criminal defendants on appeal, and represented the New York City Council Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus in opposing a discriminatory city facility use policy that was ultimately rescinded by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Why the attacks on Rushing, then?

principal complaint against her is that, during law school, she did a summer internship with Alliance Defending Freedom, where I serve as senior vice president of strategic relations and training and which the Southern Poverty Law Center has irresponsibly labeled a “hate group.” Of course, this is the same SPLC that recently paid $3.375 million and issued a public apology to settle a threatened defamation lawsuit after it falsely labeled Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz an anti-Muslim extremist. So unwarranted attacks are not new territory for the SPLC.

Then what is Alliance Defending Freedom? For the past 25 years, ADF has defended constitutionally guaranteed freedoms for Americans from all walks of life who are seeking to live consistent with their conscience. The Washington Post has described ADF as the “legal powerhouse that keeps winning at the Supreme Court,” with nine victories at the court in the past eight years. In fact, according to independent analysis published last fall, ADF emerged as a front-runner at the Supreme Court: the law firm with the highest number of wins in First Amendment cases and the top performing firm overall during the 2013-2017 terms.

Fair-minded individuals from both sides of the aisle have vigorously rejected the SPLC’s characterization of ADF. U.S. Senator James Lankford calls ADF “a national and reputable law firm that works to advocate for the rights of people to peacefully and freely speak, live and work according to their faith and conscience without threat of government punishment.” Nadine Strossen, the former president of the ACLU, explained, “I consider ADF to be a valuable ally on important issues of common concern, and a worthy adversary (not an ‘enemy’) on important issues of disagreement; what I do not consider it to be, considering the full scope of its work, is a ‘hate group.’”

And what did Rushing actually do during her summer internship with ADF? It was certainly nothing like what the SPLC would have you to believe. She co-authored an academic legal article discussing who had the right to bring a lawsuit in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of a passive display (like a Ten Commandments monument) on public property, a legal question which the Supreme Court is still grappling with today.

For this, activists sought to banish a credentialed and highly competent woman from public service. For this, Rushing was branded an “ideological extremist.” For this, every Democratic senator present for her confirmation vote deemed her unfit to serve on the bench.

Who, in this scenario, are actually the ideological extremists?

Timothy Chandler is senior counsel and senior vice president of strategic relations and training for Alliance Defending Freedom.

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