Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

‘Al Franken Supports State-Sanctioned Sterilization of Transgendered People’

Senator Feinstein’s display of anti-Catholic bigotry at Seventh Circuit nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s hearing last week overshadowed an even more vicious—and equally baseless—attack by Senator Al Franken on Alliance Defending Freedom, a leading defender of religious liberty. Franken parroted the Southern Poverty Law Center’s claim that ADF is a “hate group” and faulted Barrett for speaking to ADF’s Blackstone Fellowship program.

SPLC has an ugly practice of promiscuously misusing labels like “hate group” and “anti-Muslim extremist” to stigmatize its political opponents and (as one liberal critic puts in this Politico article) “to milk money out of the public.” Its targets and victims include heroes like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Carol Swain (an African-American academic whom, as she explains in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, SPLC smeared as “an apologist for white supremacists”), Princeton professor Robert P. George, Ben Carson, and, perhaps most notoriously, the Family Research Council, which five years ago faced a near-massacre by an unstable individual incited by SPLC’s ugly rhetoric. So ADF has plenty of good company.

A has-been comic who has evidently lost his sense of irony, Franken faulted Barrett for failing to “vet” ADF even as he failed to vet SPLC’s attack on ADF. For example, Franken quoted and credited SPLC’s claim that ADF “has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgendered people abroad.” And he then adopted the charge as his own: “This is a group that calls for the sterilization of transgender people abroad.”

Franken’s claim is flatly false. If Franken or his staff had bothered to click SPLC’s supposedly supporting link, they would have discovered that the European Court of Human Rights case that SPLC was relying on was one that involved the vexing question whether and when government-issued documents should redefine a person’s biological sex to comport with the person’s gender identity. One possible answer to that question—an answer that is available to the federal government and to all fifty states—is to allow a sex change on a government-issued document only when the person has undergone a so-called sex-change operation. So the “state-sanctioned sterilization” that ADF purportedly defended was in fact an individual transgender person’s own decision to undergo surgical mutilation.

Even worse, SPLC and Franken are wrong in claiming that ADF advocated that government-issued documents should redefine a person’s biological sex only when that person has undergone a sex-change operation. ADF did not even address the question in its amicus brief but instead argued merely that the “mechanics” of changing the sex on government documents was “a matter for the member State” to determine (again, just as it is up to each state in this country).

By his support of Obamacare, Franken, I’ll note, supports government-authorized (“state-sanctioned”) taxpayer funding of sex-change operations. Indeed, he has urged the Department of Veteran Affairs to provide such operations to veterans (as “critically important care”). So the title of this post, while admittedly misleading, is far more accurate than his attack on ADF.

More broadly, there is no reason to impute to Barrett any of the various legal or policy positions that ADF has adopted.

Franken claims that he “would vet whoever asked me to speak, whether I was speaking for free or I was getting paid.” Who knows whether he vetted the Council on American-Islamic Relations (perhaps better known as CAIR) before he thanked the group for its “efforts to not only promote political engagement and protect civil liberties, but to further our national dialogue”? This is the same CAIR that the Anti-Defamation League faults for its “anti-Israel agenda” and for its chapters that “partner with various anti-Israel groups that seek to isolate and demonize the Jewish State.” My point, of course, is not to suggest that Franken shares any of CAIR’s positions, including its “anti-Israel agenda.” By the same token, there’s no reason to assume that Barrett’s agreement to speak to ADF’s Blackstone Fellows means that she shares any of ADF’s positions.

(Disclosure: I have spoken to ADF’s Blackstone Fellows and have been pleased to work with ADF on matters of common interest.)


Most Popular


Columbia 1968: Another Untold Story

Fifty years ago this week, Columbia students riding the combined wave of the civil-rights and anti-war movements went on strike, occupied buildings across campus, and shut the university down. As you revisit that episode of the larger drama that was the annus horribilis 1968, bear in mind that the past isn’t ... Read More

Only the Strident Survive

‘I am not prone to anxiety,” historian Niall Ferguson wrote in the Times of London on April 22. “Last week, however, for the first time since I went through the emotional trauma of divorce, I experienced an uncontrollable panic attack.” The cause? “A few intemperate emails, inadvertently forwarded ... Read More

Poll Finds Nevada Voters Support School-Choice Programs

According to an April poll, a large number of Nevada voters support school-choice programs. The poll, conducted by Nevada Independent/Mellman, found that 70 percent of voters support a proposal for a special-needs Education Savings Account and 59 percent support expanding the funding for the current tax-credit ... Read More

Microscopic Dots. Let’s Look at Them.

Stuart E. Eizenstat has written a big book on the Carter presidency. (Eizenstat was Carter’s chief domestic-policy adviser. He also had a substantial hand in foreign affairs.) I have reviewed the book for the forthcoming NR. Eizenstat tells the story of a meeting between President Carter and Andrei Gromyko, the ... Read More