On December 6, major news outlets announced that “President-elect” Joe Biden selected California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Prior to the announcement, it was rumored that Becerra would serve as the U.S. Attorney General under the Biden Administration, given his involvement with the “Biden for Catholics” grassroots organization, his serving as co-chair with former vice-presidential candidate and Senator Tim Kaine, and his current role as California’s chief law-enforcement officer.
The nomination gained tacit approval of the liberal establishment as the New York Times wrote in the announcement editorial: “But as attorney general in California, he has been at the forefront of legal efforts on health care, leading 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by Republican attorneys general. He has also been a leading voice in the Democratic Party for women’s health.” Back in 2016, when former California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Becerra to the state’s Attorney General post, Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stated, “Rep. Becerra is a long-time champion for women’s reproductive rights and health. As a former California Deputy Attorney General, he understands the importance of a woman’s right to access the full range of health care, including safe, legal abortion.”
Outgoing chair of California’s LGBTQ Legislative Caucus, State Senator Scott Wiener, in a statement to the Blade—self-proclaimed America’s LGBT news source—remarked, “Xavier Becerra is a strong choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services. As Attorney General, he’s been a true champion defending healthcare access, and he has a long history advocating for community health.” Rich Chavez Zbur, Equality California Executive Director, told the Blade, “Soon after he was sworn in as California Attorney General in 2017, Xavier stood up for transgender youth by filing an amicus brief in a case involving discriminatory bathroom policy. Since then he’s been one of our community’s most ardent allies, filing lawsuits and amicus briefs defending LGBTQ+ rights.”
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Prior to serving as the Attorney General of California, Becerra served in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2017. In May of 2012, he voted against H.R. 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), which, if voted into law, would “impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly or knowingly [sic] attempts to: perform an abortion knowing that the abortion is sought based on sex, gender, color or race of the child, or the race of the parent; use force or threat of force to intentionally injure or intimidate any person for the purpose of coercing a sex-selection or race-selection abortion; solicit or accept funds for the performance of such an abortion; or transport a woman into the United States or across a state line for the purpose of obtaining such an abortion.”
In a statement on the reintroduction of H.R. 3541, Dr. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr. and Director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life, said, “HR 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, would eliminate one of the last vestiges of government sanctioned bigotry. Abortionists would be placed on notice that they cannot take a baby’s life simply because of that baby’s race or sex. And women would be reminded that they cannot be coerced into ending their children’s lives.”
As California Attorney General, Becerra used the full weight of his constitutionally invested powers to prosecute the leaders of the pro-life movement. In March of 2017, he announced fifteen felony charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress for illegally recording conversations with Planned Parenthood workers, exposing possible illegal sales of aborted babies’ body parts at Planned Parenthood. California law requires both parties to consent prior to recording. The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, opposing the prison threats posed to Daleiden and Merritt by the state, wrote: “It’s disturbingly aggressive for Becerra to apply this criminal statute to people who were trying to influence a contested issue of public policy, regardless of how sound or popular that policy may be.” As of May 2020, Daleiden could be forced to pay $2.2. million for the civil lawsuit and face up to ten years of prison time in San Quentin penitentiary if convicted of the remaining ten criminal charges. But it doesn’t end there.
In May 2017, President Trump signed a religious freedom executive order instructing government agencies to issue new guidance to address the conscientious objections raised against the federal HHS mandate. After six years of litigation, the executive order settled the question whether the Little Sisters of the Poor were obliged to participate in the federal contraception mandate promulgated under the Affordable Care Act. However, in June 2019, the Little Sisters were brought back in court by California Attorney General Becerra and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. The former filed a lawsuit against the Little Sisters in California v. Little Sisters of the Poor, arguing that the sisters should not receive a religious exemption from the 2011 mandate. A few months later, the Ninth Circuit ruled against the Little Sisters, but with the favorable ruling of a related case, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, by the Supreme Court in July 2020, the California lawsuit was sent back to the Ninth Circuit to be reviewed in light of the Court’s ruling.
In response to the ruling, then-presidential nominee Joe Biden expressed how he was “disappointed in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision” and that he would “restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the [2014 Supreme Court] Hobby Lobby ruling.” Given this knowledge, it would not be surprising for President-elect Biden, under the direction of the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, to rescind the 2017 religious freedom executive order and once again force the Little Sisters to participate in the contraceptive mandate. If nine years of litigation was not enough, the future of the Little Sisters and the Catholic Faith is about to be hashed out again in yet another round of legal battles. This time, however, the Church’s persecutors will call themselves Catholic.