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The White House Is Standing By One Of Trump's Controversial Judicial Picks — At Least Until The Midterms

Wisconsin lawyer Gordon Giampietro once wrote that "calls for diversity" are "code for relaxed standards (moral and intellectual)," among other controversial statements.

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Updated on

The White House is waiting to see if Wisconsin's Democratic senator, Tammy Baldwin, wins in November before they decide what to do with one of President Donald Trump's controversial judicial nominees.

Gordon Giampietro, a lawyer in Milwaukee, was nominated in December for a seat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. BuzzFeed News in February reported disparaging comments Giampietro had made online and in interviews about diversity, same-sex relationships, and birth control. Civil rights groups oppose his nomination, as does Baldwin, who wrote to the White House last month urging them to withdraw his name.

A White House official familiar with the process told BuzzFeed News there are no plans to pull Giampietro's nomination, but the official acknowledged that without Baldwin's support, Giampietro is unlikely to get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The official said they would keep his nomination active until the midterm elections — Baldwin is up for reelection — and then decide what to do.

If Baldwin loses in November and a Republican takes her seat, that could give Giampietro a path to confirmation. If she wins, however, and does not change her position on Giampietro, the White House would consider withdrawing the nomination, the official said. Trump won Wisconsin by one point in 2016, and conservative groups have already spent millions of dollars in an effort to oust Baldwin, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Baldwin said Giampietro made statements that called into question his judgment and failed to disclose those statements to a state commission that vetted and recommended him. Asked about the White House's plans, a spokesman for Baldwin referred BuzzFeed News to her letter to the White House.

Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin's Republican senator, continues to back Giampietro. In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Johnson accused Baldwin of citing anonymous sources in her letter to the White House "to smear a good person."

"Mr. Giampietro is a highly qualified and talented individual who respects the rule of law. Presumably that’s why Senator Baldwin was 'pleased to recommend' him to the White House for this position just a few months ago," Johnson said. "Now, Senator Baldwin says she opposes Mr. Giampietro, and her opposition seems to be because Mr. Giampietro is a person of faith. In a letter to the president explaining herself, Senator Baldwin used anonymous sources to smear a good person. I find that despicable."

Baldwin wrote in a May 1 letter to the White House that she would not give her support for Giampietro's nomination through what's known as the "blue slip" process. Traditionally, Senate Judiciary Committee chairs haven't moved forward with federal court nominees unless both home state senators return blue sheets of paper signaling their approval. The informal system was designed to give senators leverage with the White House during the nominating process.

The blue slip process has long been a point of contention between Republicans and Democrats, but the fight escalated after Trump took office. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley announced he would proceed with appeals court nominees even if both home state senators hadn't returned blue slips, as long as he was satisfied the White House had consulted with the senators in the selection process. Democrats accused Grassley of changing the rules after he had enforced them to Republicans' advantage to block former president Barack Obama's nominees.

For district court nominees, however, Grassley has said he is unlikely to hold hearings without positive blue slips from both home state senators. Giampietro has not had a hearing, and a spokesperson for Grassley told BuzzFeed News there are no plans for one at this point.

The White House announced Giampietro's nomination on Dec. 20. He was one of 10 nominees announced that day. The other nine nominees have either been confirmed, voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, or have had a hearing.

Giampietro was one of four names that Baldwin and Johnson submitted to the White House based on recommendations from the state's bipartisan Federal Nominating Commission. In her letter to the White House last month, Baldwin wrote that commission members she appointed said they would not have supported Giampietro's nomination if they had known about his controversial statements.

"Since his nomination, I have also been contacted by several judges, attorneys and other individuals with personal or professional experience with Mr. Giampietro who have expressed grave reservations about his qualifications and temperament to serve as a federal judge," Baldwin wrote. She urged the White House to nominate one of the other three candidates — all county circuit court judges in Wisconsin — in his place.

Baldwin cited comments Giampietro made in a July 24, 2015, radio interview saying that listeners could ignore Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges — the decision that recognized a nationwide right to same-sex marriage — "because it's not really legal reasoning." He said Kennedy "went off the rails years ago" with the 2003 opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down Texas's sodomy law.

Baldwin wrote that those remarks "cast doubt on his respect for precedent, and were clearly pronouncements on legal issues that Mr. Giampietro should have disclosed to the Nominating Commission."

BuzzFeed News also reported that on March 25, 2014, Giampietro wrote a comment on the website the Catholic Thing saying that "calls for diversity" are "code for relaxed standards (moral and intellectual)." In the July 24, 2015, interview, Giampietro also said that it was "irrefutable" that children are best raised by a heterosexual couple, appeared to refer to same-sex relationships as "troubled," and called the birth control pill an "assault on nature."

Giampietro's supporters have argued that he is being unfairly targeted for his religious beliefs as a Catholic. Civil rights groups say Giampietro is the latest in a string of anti-LGBT nominees tapped by the Trump administration, and have also criticized his comments about diversity and women's reproductive rights.

Trump had a record number of appeals court judges confirmed in his first year, and Republicans and the White House have made judicial confirmations a priority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that he would cancel the August recess so that senators could pass legislation and move through more nominees.

UPDATE

Updated with comment from Sen. Ron Johnson.

Zoe Tillman is a legal reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Zoe Tillman at zoe.tillman@buzzfeed.com.

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