WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans voted Monday night to advance the nomination of Allison Jones Rushing, yet another of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees who is troubling for a number of reasons.
Rushing 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.
But it’s her age that may be most notable: She is 36. If she gets confirmed this week, as expected, she will be the youngest federal judge in the country. She has practiced law for only nine years, and her career has focused on defending corporations. She has tried just four cases to verdict or judgment.
Long after this week’s Senate vote, after Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are gone, after the 2020 presidential election that the media is so focused on right now, Rushing will be on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit interpreting statutes and making consequential decisions that affect millions of Americans.
With little fanfare, Republicans advanced her nomination Monday on a party-line vote of 52-43. Her final confirmation vote is expected Tuesday.
Rushing, who is a partner at the D.C.-based law firm Williams & Connolly, is not the only exceptionally young judicial nominee getting a Senate vote this week. McConnell has teed up votes for U.S. circuit court nominees Eric Murphy and Chad Readler, who are 39 and 46, respectively.
All three have the ideological bent that Trump is looking for in his court picks. Murphy, the solicitor general of Ohio, has fought to make it easier to disenfranchise voters, argued against marriage equality in the landmark 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case before the Supreme Court and argued against reproductive rights. Readler, who is Trump’s acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division, filed a brief in favor of striking down the Affordable Care Act, defended efforts to weaken voting rights and defended Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
All three are members of the conservative Federalist Society, which has been driving Trump’s judicial selection process and funneling anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ nominees to the White House.
To some observers, the age of these nominees is part of a bigger problem of Republicans not taking the review process seriously and blowing through Senate customs to confirm as many of Trump’s circuit court nominees as possible. Circuit courts are often the last word in federal court cases. The Supreme Court hears only about 100 to 150 appeals of the more than 7,000 cases that come before the nation’s 13 circuit courts each year.
“[This week’s nominees] may lack life experience and will be serving many years after Trump … enjoying life tenure on the ‘Supreme Courts’ for their regions because the Supreme Court hears so few cases,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and an expert in judicial nominations. “Many are also being confirmed on extremely close votes and some on party-line votes with insufficiently rigorous vetting.”
Rushing didn’t even have a real confirmation hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman at the time, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), scheduled her hearing last fall when the Senate was out of session and few senators were in town. Not a single Democrat could attend. Just two Republicans attended, and neither asked tough questions.
McConnell has made judicial confirmations a top priority and has already helped Trump dramatically reshape the federal courts. To date, Trump has gotten 31 circuit judges, 53 district judges and two Supreme Court justices confirmed. That’s so many circuit judges ― more than any other president confirmed by this point in his first term ― that 1 in 6 seats on the U.S. circuit courts is filled by a judge nominated by Trump.
For some context: President Barack Obama confirmed 55 circuit court judges in eight years. Trump is only two years in and more than halfway there.
There’s not much Democrats can do about any of this, beyond winning control of the Senate in 2020. The minority typically has some tools for affecting judicial confirmations; it is a Senate custom, for example, to wait for both senators representing a nominee’s home state to turn in so-called blue slips before that nominee can move forward. But Republicans have been bypassing the blue slip rule in their effort to fill up courts with Trump’s nominees.
“The GOP majority has eviscerated nearly all Senate rules and customs, such as consultation and blue slips, that protect the minority party’s prerogatives in the nomination and confirmation processes,” said Tobias.
“Not healthy for the judiciary or the nation,” he added.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story incorrectly gave Murphy’s age as 40 and Rushing’s as 37.