The Senate adjourned for the August recess last week on the heels of another prolific week for judicial nominations.
The Republican-controlled chamber confirmed 12 new judges in a two-day period to lifetime appointments on district courts, including Illinois, Texas and Oregon. The previous week, two other judges were confirmed for district court seats.
According to Daniel Goldberg, legal director for the Alliance for Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group, the volume of confirmations was concerning.
“Obviously it’s a lot, particularly when you consider that Mitch McConnell completely shut down confirmations for Barack Obama,” said Goldberg. “So, Merrick Garland is the most prominent, but that obstruction was carried over to lower court judges, too.”
In the two years he faced a Republican Senate, President Obama had only 18 of his judicial nominees confirmed to the district court. Two were confirmed to the Court of Appeals.
In Trump’s first 2 1/2 years in office, he has had 146 federal judges confirmed.
When George W. Bush faced a Democratic Senate from 2007 to 2009, the Senate confirmed about 60 of his district court nominees.
“Quite frankly, if you look at this entire past two years, Mitch McConnell set up an assembly line, really,” Goldberg said.
In April, Senate Majority Leader McConnell led a vote to change the rules of debate for district judges. The so-called nuclear option decreases the amount of time a nominee is debated from 30 hours to two.
“What that means is that some of the most controversial people, people who’ll be deciding the rights and liberties of people, are, in Mitch McConnell’s eyes, only worth two hours of debate and public scrutiny,” Goldberg said.
The volume of judges, however, only scratches the surface of Goldberg’s concerns.
Beliefs expressed by these judges and their judicial records are other causes for concern, Goldberg said.
Instead of selecting more moderate, bipartisan judges, Goldberg said, Trump and McConnell made extreme choices.
“Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell have prioritized stacking the federal bench with right-wing ideologues, people who are coming to the court with policy objectives to erode health care for millions, to erode worker rights, protections for consumers for clean air, clean water, civil rights, rights for women, rights for LGBTQ Americans,” Goldberg said. “And so many more protections that people rely on.”
There also is concern about the qualifications of Trump’s judges. Few have prior judicial experience, which isn’t abnormal for the district court. But many don’t have relevant court experience, Goldberg noted.
Justin Walker, for example, worked as a clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, and for Justice Brett Kavanaugh when Kavanaugh was on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The American Bar Association [ABA] said he was unqualified because he didn’t have trial or litigation experience.
Jonathan Kobes, Trump’s December 2018 appointment to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, is another inexperienced judge who gained a lifetime appointment on an influential federal court. The ABA also determined him to be unqualified.
Goldberg said the ABA has minimal standards for qualifications and should be considered a baseline for judging a nominee’s fitness to serve.
The problem, he said, is the ABA doesn’t look at a potential judge’s past writing and actions and interpret them through an ideological lens.
Someone with a record of failing to enforce voting rights laws, for example, can’t be trusted to be a fair jurist, Goldberg explained.
“So, [McConnell and Trump] are pushing forward people who do not have the requisite experience or skills to be federal judges,” he said. “Long after Donald Trump has left the scene, the judges that he is getting confirmed will be interpreting the law in a way that will be harmful to the American people.”
By Nikoel Hytrek
Photos via Wikipedia