Friday, November 20, 2009

Chai Feldblum coasting toward confirmation as member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The Senate Health, Eduation, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing yesterday on all of President Obama's nominees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, including gay rights scholar and advocate, law professor Chai Feldblum. Watch the hearing here. Prof. Feldblum noted that she was accompanied by her partner, Nan Hunter.

The first question to Prof. Feldblum concerned her signing of the Beyond Marriage statement. Senator Harkin, one of Prof. Feldblum's supporters, noted that she had signed the statement and that it included support for "committed loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner." Then he asked her directly if she supported polygamy. Obviously prepared for the question, Prof. Feldblum replied:
I do not support polygamy. I am sorry I signed that document and I have asked for my name to be removed. I agreed with the general thrust of the statement that we ought to support caregiving relationships, but the statement goes beyond what I would have said to communicte that point. It was therefore a mistake to sign that document.

Harkin said sometimes if a friend asks us to sign we do and he asked how much thought she had given to it. Prof. Feldblum said that, indeed, another law professor, from Columbia Law School had sent it to her. She said she did read it through, that she agreed with the thrust of supporting caregiving relationships, but that the statement does go beyond what I would have said. She repeated that it was a mistake to sign it and that she had asked to have her name removed.

Republican Senator Mike Enzi asked Prof. Feldblum what she thought of religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. Calling upon her experience as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, which she had highlighted in her opening statement, Prof. Feldblum said she feels strongly that protections in place for religious liberty should be effectively enforced. She expressed support for the exemption in civil rights law that allows religious employers to hire people from their own religion. She also expressed support for the religious exemption in the pending Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Sen. Enzi that asked whether Prof. Feldblum believes that victims of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity (I think he meant gender identity but he didn't quite get it out) should be able to bring disparate impact claims. She replied that very early on there was agreement that no such claims would be permitted, that she was comfortable with that at the time and is now.

Chai was eloquent, poised, and well-prepared. Do I wish she could have given a more nuanced answer to the question about the Beyond Marriage statement? Absolutely. That must explain why I will never be confirmed by the Senate for anything! It looks like Chai's confirmation will go through easily with the other nominees, although I do imagine a number of Republicans will characterize her in some extreme fashion and vote against her.


Harry834 said...

Hi Nancy,

Do you believe we should give legal recognition to romantic relationships (consenting adults) of more than two? If so, do you have any links to anything you have written that would argue for this, or more specifically, against the opposition for this?


Nancy Polikoff said...

I write about the allocation of legal consequences. I believe that some legal consequences should flow from economically interdependent relationships, such as the right to receive survivors benefits or sue for wrongful death. If two people are economically interdependent with or dependent upon a person who dies, I believe both should have access to survivors benefits and wrongful death actions. It does not matter to me whether they are romantically involved or not. For certain legal consequences, there is a problem of scarcity, and I have less trouble with limiting the legal consequence to one person (for example, an employer extending benefits to an employee's spouse or to another adult; I would not require those benefits to go to more than one adult). I do write about these things in my book.

Harry834 said...

Thank you.

HH said...

I'm glad you're covering her confirmation process, because she needs our support. The opposition is just starting. Suggest you post links to pages to contact congresspersons, etc. This will be big!