Next week will be the biggest week in advancing the radical Trump agenda since the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Because President Trump has failed spectacularly with even a Republican-led Congress, he is running an end-around to accomplish his goals through unilateral executive actions—often beyond constitutional limits. A fair-minded and impartial judiciary would hold him accountable and strike down his actions—and some judges already have—so President Trump now is working to rig the courts with conservative, activist judges who will rubber stamp his agenda.
Republican Senators, in turn, are rubber-stamping these rubber stamps as quickly as possible. Because these federal judges will receive lifetime appointments, they will not only advance President Trump’s extreme agenda, they will hand down their ideological decisions for decades to come.
Republicans seeded this partisan manipulation of our courts as soon as they took control of the Senate in 2015, engaging in the worst obstruction of judicial nominees in generations and creating an unusually high number of vacancies that President Trump can now fill.
The brazen mistreatment of Chief Judge Merrick Garland—the first Supreme Court nominee to be denied a hearing since such hearings began—is well known. But under the radar, Senate Republicans engaged in unprecedented obstruction at all levels of the federal judiciary.
From 2015 to 2016, Senate Republicans confirmed only 22 of President Obama’s judicial nominees—the fewest in a two-year Congress since President Truman, when there were only a third as many federal judgeships. By comparison, from 2007 to 2008, Senate Democrats confirmed 68 of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
Their obstruction was particularly severe at the circuit court level—the level just below the Supreme Court—as Senate Republicans confirmed only two circuit judges during those two years, the fewest since the 1800s.
Republicans are now rubber-stamping Trump nominees to fill these vacancies very, very quickly.
Yesterday, Senator McConnell filed cloture on four of President Trump’s circuit nominees, and they will be considered next week. If all four are confirmed, it will bring Trump’s total to eight circuit judges—nearly six months ahead of the past two presidents. (President Obama’s eighth circuit judge was confirmed on April 21, 2010; President George W. Bush’s eighth on April 15, 2002.)
Senate Republicans are rushing consideration, with an average of only 122 days from nomination to confirmation—compared to 209 days for President Obama’s first eight circuit judges and 156 days for President George W. Bush’s.
In fact, two of the four nominees were just considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. In eight years, President Obama had only one circuit judge confirmed within a week of the Committee vote.
These Trump nominees are being rammed through the Senate despite their extremely conservative, ideological records.
In President Obama’s entire first term, only five circuit court nominees were reported on party-line votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and three of them were not confirmed. Already, six of President Trump’s circuit court nominees—including all four to be considered next week—failed to earn any bipartisan Committee support.
In fact, two nominees—Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen and Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid—were even selected by the far-right Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation for then-candidate Trump’s original list of 11 Supreme Court candidates.
Justice Larsen is opposed by a coalition of 27 national, state, and local advocacy organizations representing the interests of LGBT people; the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Alliance for Justice; and People For the American Way.
Professor Amy Coney Barrett—the first nominee to be considered next week—also has provoked widespread opposition, ranging from a coalition of 17 reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations and the National Women’s Law Center to a coalition of 27 organizations representing the interests of LGBT people and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and many more.
Republicans are rushing to pack the courts because so many of President Trump’s executive actions are being challenged—and he’s already starting to lose cases:
- All three of President Trump’s discriminatory travel bans have been blocked.
- Just yesterday, a federal court prevented the Department of Defense from denying the fast-tracked citizenship applications it promised to 2,000 foreign-born soldiers with special skills.
- Earlier this week, a federal court ordered the Trump administration to stop preventing a 17 year-old undocumented immigrant in detention from accessing an abortion.
- Lawsuits and federal court rulings across the country have prevented several proposed environmental rollbacks.
- The sham voting commission is stalled because of lawsuits over its failure to provide transparency or to protect voters’ privacy.
Numerous lawsuits are challenging President Trump’s proposed:
- Ban on transgender troops serving in the military;
- Elimination of guaranteed health insurance coverage of birth control, regardless of a woman’s employer;
- End of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program;
- Wall between the United States and Mexico;
- And much, much more. The state of Washington alone has challenged more than a dozen Trump policies.
Just yesterday, Attorney General Sessions publicly complained about several judges who have ensured checks and balances in our government. So even if next week’s nominees don’t consider any of the current legal challenges, it’s no surprise that Republicans are pushing to install as many right-wing ideologues as possible, in an effort to secure more favorable rulings generally as the cases continue to grow.
The most hypocritical part of all? Senator McConnell’s claim that Democrats are engaged in “mindless attempts to slow progress.” Not only did Republicans write the book on mindless obstruction, the only “mindless” effort today is the Republican rubber-stamp of these nominees, without bothering to review their records and regardless of their extreme, narrow-minded views. Turning our courts over to partisan judges who will rubber-stamp the Trump agenda is the opposite of “progress.”
In the face of this Republican rush, slowing these nominees is absolutely necessary; far from mindless obstruction, Democratic Senators are doing so to ensure that each nominee receives the consideration he or she requires—and that the nation understands the stakes in this conservative takeover of our courts.
If confirmed, each judge could serve at least 30 years. Republican Senators seem unwilling to give us an open mind, so the least they can give us is 30 hours of Senate floor time.