WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans are confirming so many of President Donald Trump’s nominees to lifetime federal court seats, it’s hard to keep up. Who are these people? What difference will they make in my life, anyway?
You’re in luck: We’re going to break it down here!
Two and a half years in, what stands out about Trump’s confirmed judges isn’t just the quantity, which is remarkable ― two Supreme Court justices, a record-breaking 43 appeals court judges and 99 district court judges.
It’s that a chunk of his judges shouldn’t be on the bench at all because they aren’t qualified or they’re so ideologically extreme that it’s next to impossible to imagine them as fair arbiters of justice. These judges are now on federal courts at every level, from the Supreme Court to appeals courts, which have the final say in nearly all federal cases, down to district courts, where these cases are first filed. For the appeals court judges in particular, the decisions these people make will affect you and millions of other people for generations.
“It is important for the public to appreciate that appeals court appointees serve on courts that are the courts of last resort for 99.9% of cases in their regions of the U.S. on issues like capital punishment, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, etc.,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and an expert on federal judicial nominations. “The key is they resolve 50,000 cases per year and the Supreme Court resolves 100.”
Here’s a snapshot of Trump’s most alarming judges to date. Incredibly, all but one (Wendy Vitter) is or was a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers’ group that has effectively been picking Trump’s judicial nominees for him. There is a clear theme to these judges, too: They have records of being anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion and anti-voting rights.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh
Credibly accused of sexual assault
Kavanaugh repeatedly lied under oath in his Senate confirmation hearing and, alternating between crying, yelling and interrupting Senate committee members as they pressed him on credible sexual assault allegations against him, he blamed his rocky confirmation process on politics. Kavanaugh’s unhinged behavior raised fresh questions about his temperament to be a justice on the nation’s highest court. As Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) concluded in opposing him, he failed to meet the standard spelled out in the Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 1.2, which states that a judge must “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”
The American Bar Association was prepared to revisit its previous “well qualified” rating of Kavanaugh after his disastrous hearing, but Senate Republicans went ahead and confirmed him, so the group let it go. Every Republican but one, Murkowski, voted to confirm him.
Judge Leonard Steven Grasz on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit
Unanimously rated ‘not qualified’ by the ABA
Grasz earned an embarrassing and unanimous “not qualified” rating from the ABA, which has been evaluating federal judicial nominees since 1989 and rarely gives such an abysmal rating. Former colleagues described Grasz as “gratuitously rude,” per the ABA review, and expressed an “unusual fear” of consequences if they said anything bad about him because of his “deep connection” to powerful politicians. ABA members also raised concerns that Grasz is “unable to separate his role as an advocate from that of a judge,” given his record of opposing LGBTQ and abortion rights. Every Senate Republican present voted to confirm him.
Judge Jonathan Kobes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit
Rated “not qualified” by the ABA
Kobes earned a “not qualified” rating by the ABA because he “was unable to provide sufficient writing samples of the caliber required” of a circuit judge. He also failed to demonstrate “an especially high degree of legal scholarship and excellent analytical and writing experience,” per the ABA review. Kobes certainly benefited from being a former aide to Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). Every Senate Republican but one voted to confirm him.
Judge Neomi Rao on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Blamed women for date rape
Rao published a series of inflammatory articles on sexual assault, race and LGBTQ rights as a Yale University student. “A good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober,” she wrote, adding that if a woman drinks to the point where she cannot choose if she wants to have sex, “getting to that point was part of her choice.” Rao also denounced “special treatment for minority students” and called the fight for LGBTQ rights a “trendy political movement.” Every Senate Republican voted to confirm her.
Judge John Bush on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
Compared abortion to slavery
Bush previously compared abortion to slavery and called them “the two greatest tragedies in our country.” He has also said he strongly disagrees with same-sex marriage, mocked climate change, called for gagging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and proclaimed “the witch is dead” when he thought the Affordable Care Act might not be enacted. Every Senate Republican present voted to confirm him.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
Called the ACA’s birth control benefit “an assault on religious liberty”
Barrett has suggested Roe v. Wade was an “erroneous decision” and called the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit “an assault on religious liberty.” She is on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court picks, which Trump said only includes people willing to overturn Roe v. Wade. The former Notre Dame law professor also sparked questions about her membership in a tightly knit Christian group called People of Praise, in which members swear a lifelong oath of loyalty and are accountable to a personal adviser ― called a “head” for men and a “handmaid” for women ― and are taught that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family. Every Senate Republican voted to confirm her.
Judge Kyle Duncan on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit
Defended voter suppression law that targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision”
As an attorney, Duncan defended North Carolina’s egregious voter suppression law that a federal appeals court struck down in 2016, ruling that it discriminated against black voters and “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Duncan appealed the case to the Supreme Court, calling it “ludicrous” to suggest the law echoed Jim Crow laws. The Supreme Court rejected his appeal. He also led Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court fight against covering birth control under its employee health plans, and he claimed the court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage equality, “raises a question about the legitimacy of the Court.” Every Senate Republican present voted to confirm him.
Judge Kenneth Lee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
Called claims of sexism “irrelevant pouting”
Lee published a series of offensive articles as a student and newspaper editor at Cornell University. Claims of sexism are “irrelevant pouting,” he wrote, and LGBTQ rights advocacy is “yet another way to portray people as victims in need of preferential treatment.” He argued that gay people are more promiscuous than straight people, which is why “9 out of 10 people with AIDS are gay or drug users”; that multiculturalism is a “malodorous sickness”; and that African Americans’ fight for equality post-slavery is similar to other immigrants trying to overcome discrimination. Lee initially hid his writings from senators, but they were later uncovered by staff and the press. Every Senate Republican present voted to confirm him.
Judge Eric Murphy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
Led efforts to make it harder for minorities to vote
Murphy led repeated efforts to make it harder for minorities to vote. The former Ohio solicitor general defended getting rid of the state’s “Golden Week,” a five-day period in which voters could register and vote at the same time, and defended Ohio’s notorious voter purge law before the Supreme Court. The court upheld that law in a contentious 5-4 decision, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing in her dissent that the law will disproportionately make it harder for “minority, low-income, disabled, homeless, and veteran voters to cast a ballot.” Every Senate Republican present voted to confirm him.
Judge Allison Rushing Jones on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit
Claimed “moral and practical reasons” for banning marriage equality
Jones worked for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian organization that has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. She has argued that there were “moral and practical” reasons for banning same-sex marriage. At 37, Jones is also the youngest federal judge in the country, and some Democrats opposed her on the grounds that she lacks the experience or legal ability to be a U.S. circuit judge. Every Senate Republican voted to confirm her.
Judge Don Willett on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit
Regularly ruled against same-sex marriage rights
The former Texas Supreme Court Justice consistently ruled against same-sex marriage rights, including a June 2017 ruling that same-sex spouses of Houston city workers have no inherent right to benefits under Obergefell v. Hodges, the federal marriage equality ruling. Willett also mocked a California law relating to transgender students’ participation in school sports. He has bragged that “there is no ideological daylight to the right of me,” and in his 2012 judicial election, he was endorsed by rabidly anti-LGBTQ advocates including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Christian revisionist historian David Barton. Willett is on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court picks, which Trump said only includes people willing to overturn Roe v. Wade. Every Senate Republican voted to confirm him.
Judge Eric Miller on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
Made a career out of fighting Native Americans’ tribal sovereignty
Miller built a legal career out of fighting tribal interests and sovereignty, so much so that one Native American leader described Miller’s law firm, Perkins Coie, as the go-to destination for jurisdictions that want “to fight an Indian tribe.” Two prominent Native organizations ― the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund ― wrote to Judiciary Committee leaders raising concerns about Miller’s advocacy for “undermining the rights of Indian tribes, often taking extreme positions and using pejorative language to denigrate tribal rights.” But every Senate Republican voted to confirm him. He now sits on a court with jurisdiction over 427 federally recognized tribes.
Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas
Called being transgender “a delusion”
Kacsmaryk called it “a grave mistake” to include protections for LGBTQ people in the Violence Against Women Act, and he signed a 2016 letter that called being transgender “a delusion.” He also criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, saying “seven justices of the Supreme Court found an unwritten ‘fundamental right’ to abortion hiding in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the shadowy ‘penumbras’ of the Bill of Rights, a celestial phenomenon invisible to the non-lawyer eye.” (What?) Every Senate Republican but one, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), voted to confirm him.
Judge Wendy Vitter on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Falsely linked abortion to cancer
Vitter claimed that Planned Parenthood “kills over 150,000 females a year.” The former general counsel to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and wife to former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) also falsely linked abortion to cancer while moderating a 2013 anti-abortion panel, and urged audience members to tell their doctors to put brochures in their waiting rooms that falsely link birth control to “violent death.” Every Senate Republican but one, Susan Collins, voted to confirm her.
Judge Howard Nielson Jr. on the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah
Argued that a gay judge couldn’t be fair on a same-sex marriage case
As an attorney, Nielson argued that sexual orientation is a choice in his 2010 legal defense of Proposition 8, California’s former ban on same-sex marriage. He also disputed evidence that discrimination against LGBTQ people leads to higher rates of depression and suicide. When a U.S. district court ruled that Prop 8 violated the Constitution, Nielson argued the judge should have recused himself because he was gay and therefore unable to be fair. Every Senate Republican but one, Susan Collins, voted to confirm him.
Judge Mark Norris on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee
Opposes abortion “under any circumstances”
Norris previously led an effort to ban communities from removing monuments to Confederate leaders and set up a website that used images of refugees next to pictures of Islamic State terrorists. The former Tennessee state senator also backed legislation allowing mental health counselors to discriminate against LGBTQ clients and said he does not “favor abortion under any circumstances.” Every Senate Republican present voted to confirm him.
Judge Stephen Clark on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri
Claimed same-sex marriage leads to polygamy
Clark claimed that same-sex marriage leads to polygamy in a 2016 speech at Duke University, and in another 2016 speech, he criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, stating that marriage equality “is not an issue for nine unelected, unaccountable people with lifetime tenure … [to] be deciding because there is not a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.” Clark was also on the board of directors of Lawyers for Life, which issued a 2016 flyer with Clark’s name on it, declaring: “Roe vs. Wade gave doctors a license to kill unborn children. Like the Dred Scott decision, Roe is BAD LAW.” Every Senate Republican present voted to confirm him.
Judge Patrick Wyrick on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma
Tried to make emergency contraception access harder for minors and adults
The former Oklahoma solicitor general defended a law that would have required minors to get a prescription before buying emergency contraception and forced adult women to prove their age before they could have such contraception. The legislation was permanently blocked by a state judge in 2014. Wyrick also filed an amicus brief in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court, arguing that the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate was unconstitutional because “religious faith is more than mere belief. It is practice.” Every Senate Republican voted to confirm him.