“Have you ever seen a situation where a professional attorney at the Department of Justice said, ‘I can’t do it. I’m walking away from this’? I’m gonna resign if I have to, but I will not sign that in good conscience.”
-Sen. Richard Durbin to Chad Readler, nominee to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
Late Friday, December 14, 2018, District Court Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush nominated judge, declared the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. Criticism of the decision was widespread across the ideological spectrum of the legal community. For the millions of Americans who rely on the Affordable Care Act and its protections for preexisting conditions, this decision is potentially devastating.
Although Judge O’Connor’s name is on the decision, another government official – Chad Readler, a senior political appointee in the Justice Department – bears equal responsibility for jeopardizing the health of millions. In his role at DOJ, Readler filed the government’s brief in the case, in which the Trump Administration argued that key provisions of the ACA were unconstitutional. Tellingly, Readler was then nominated to a highly influential federal judgeship in the Sixth Circuit – on the very same day he filed his brief.
Readler’s decision to file the brief was so striking that three Justice Department lawyers refused to sign it, and a veteran Justice Department lawyer resigned in protest. Chad Readler, in contrast, apparently could sleep at night knowing that if his legal argument was successful, over 50 million Americans, including cancer patients, people with disabilities, and pregnant women, would lose health insurance.
Should we have expected anything different from Readler? The answer, sadly, is no.
Like almost all Trump judicial nominees, Readler has a record of working to undermine constitutional rights and legal protections for all Americans. He has attacked voting rights and rights for women and LGBTQ Americans; worked to eliminate the right to public education in Ohio; defended attacks on immigrants; and sought to weaken protections for workers and consumers.
But what truly sets Readler apart is his seeming lack of conscience. His willingness to strip health insurance from pregnant women is far from an aberration; Readler’s entire career has been defined by a callousness and willingness to cause real harm to others.
For example, Readler chose to defend separating migrant children from their families at the border – including ripping nursing infants from their mothers’ arms. This heartless policy has had horrendous human consequences. For example, a four-year old boy was so traumatized after being taken from his mom that he refused to eat and reverted to needing diapers. Yet the pain and trauma to the children apparently did not disturb Readler. As Senator Durbin bluntly told him, “The brief you signed defended this policy. I’m disappointed that it didn’t trouble you. I wish it had.”
In addition to his defense of taking children away from their mothers at the border, Readler also defended keeping those children separated for a potentially infinite amount of time, therefore making Readler not only directly responsible for defending the separation of children from their families, but also responsible for preventing those children from potentially ever seeing their families again. This is unconscionable, yet Readler seemed to have no trouble stomaching it – as Senator Durbin memorably pointed out in the excerpt above from Readler’s subsequent confirmation hearing.
Not only that, but Readler also argued immigrants were not entitled to basic necessities. When detained immigrants fought for adequate conditions – which included sleeping mats and blankets, as well as access to soap, toilet paper, sanitary napkins, medical care and showers – he fought back. His callous excuse for not providing these indispensable essentials of daily life was that it would “reduce  hold room capacities” and increase processing times.
Readler also literally fought to take money from American families’ pockets. He chose not to defend a rule that ensured that four million middle-class Americans received hard-earned overtime pay. And when tens of thousands of students were defrauded by for-profit colleges, he joined Betsy DeVos in trying to make sure the students remained burdened by large student loans.
Additionally, in an era of ceaseless mass shootings and gun violence, Readler sided with dangerous, clandestine private gun manufacturers when he advocated for an unregulated system allowing the production of untraceable plastic firearms.
Readler also represented tobacco companies in their efforts to advertise cigarettes near schools and day care centers, a wholly inappropriate location for advertising of addictive and life-threatening tobacco products.
That is quite a legacy. It is no exaggeration to say that Readler has busied himself by putting the health of 50 million Americans in jeopardy; separating children from their mothers; lowering the pay checks of millions of middle-class workers; keeping defrauded students mired in debt; exposing more children and their parents to the lure of tobacco; and putting more people at risk of experiencing gun violence.
At Readler’s confirmation hearing, Senator Cory Booker asked Readler about his DOJ brief regarding health care. Defending his action and its potential consequences, Readler said, “I don’t think the values question really is the test.” Booker responded that “we’ve seen horrible points in history where people were just following orders. If you thought this was wrong . . . in your morals, taking away protections from preexisting conditions, you would have said something, right?”
Senator Durbin also told Readler that at the time he signed the brief defending Trump’s policy of separating children from their mothers, 700 children had already been taken from their parents. Durbin told Readler he was “trying to understand if [Readler] thought,” considering that he could see the impact that this policy had already had on hundreds of children, “that was a good policy or it was an ethical challenge to [him], a professional challenge to [him] not to be part of this chapter in our history.”
In both cases, Readler would not directly answer.
Throughout his hearing, Readler repeatedly minimized his avid engagement in various odious activities and cases he was involved in. He attempted to present his record in a way that suggested that his choices did not reflect any personal or moral stances he had, but rather that he was merely a lawyer dutifully representing his clients.
President Abraham Lincoln once said: “No client ever had money enough to bribe my conscience or to stop its utterance against wrong and oppression.” Apparently, Chad Readler would disagree with President Lincoln on this point. At every step of his career, Readler has chosen to actively support actions and causes that cause immeasurable damage to the lives of all Americans.
So we should not be fooled by Readler’s disingenuous attempts to assuage serious concerns about his record. It is one thing to represent a client’s interest, but it takes a particular void of compassion and principles for a person to elect to build a career on the premise of dismantling rights and protections for vulnerable people.