WASHINGTON, D.C., April 3, 2019 – In the first two years of his presidency, Donald Trump’s efforts to pack the courts realigned several circuit courts; established a pattern of judicial nominations in which partisan ideology overwhelmingly outweighs other qualifications for nominees; reversed the Obama-era push to diversify the courts; and radically reshaped the judicial confirmation process in the Senate such that decades of rules, norms and traditions have been discarded. These are among the key findings of a new report, Trump’s Attacks on Our Justice System: President Trump, the Federal Judiciary and the 115th Congress, released today by Alliance for Justice.
“President Trump sees two purposes for the federal judiciary,” said Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice. “One is as a tool to accomplish an anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-health care, anti-LGBTQ, anti-racial justice agenda that is too unpopular to pass through the legislative process. The other is to protect himself from legal jeopardy. Both are undemocratic and unjust goals for a branch of our government that is supposed to uphold the rights of all Americans. Sadly, the damage that this President and administration are doing to our justice system could take a very long time to reverse.”
The AFJ report finds that despite the Trump Administration’s and Senate Republicans’ complaints that the judicial confirmation process was moving too slowly, in its first two years the Trump Administration had two Supreme Court justices and 30 court of appeals nominees confirmed (compared with two justices and 16 appellate judges confirmed by the same point in President Obama’s first term) and 53 district court nominees confirmed (compared with 44 for Obama). In addition, the report finds that the Eleventh, Third, Seventh, Eighth, Fifth and Sixth Circuits are among those that were most affected by Trump’s judicial appointments in his first two years. With regard to demographics, over 76% of Trump’s confirmed appellate and district court nominees are male and over 91% are white. In comparison, nearly 58% of Obama’s nominees were male and 64% were white. A full 83% (25 of 30) of President Trump’s confirmed appellate nominees were members of the right-wing Federalist Society. (Changes to these statistics as of April 1, 2019, including the increase in confirmed circuit court judges to a total of 37, are noted in the report.)
The undermining of the Senate’s advise-and-consent role on judicial nominations and confirmations has been striking. Senate Republican leadership has changed Senate rules, lowering the confirmation-vote threshold so Neil Gorsuch could be confirmed to the Supreme Court. It has employed extensive short-cuts and obfuscation, including blocking the release of a vast number of records and truncating an investigation of sexual assault allegations, in the Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. It has discarded the century-old “blue slip” rule for lower court nominations, stacked confirmation hearings with multiple nominees to prevent thorough questioning, allowed nominees to mislead the Senate Judiciary Committee by permitting their demonstrably false statements to stand unchallenged, and advanced the highest number of nominees with American Bar Association “Not Qualified” ratings ever to be put forward in the first two years of any presidential term. It has also permitted nominees to move forward despite numerous and glaring omissions from their records. Finally, it has permitted nominees to advance despite records of voter suppression, anti-LGBTQ bias, efforts to undermine women’s constitutional rights, efforts to destroy health and safety safeguards for the public, and more.
The AFJ report Appendices provide an extensive catalogue of Trump judicial nominees who have poor records in a number of key issue areas. This section of the report offers a stark illustration of the wide-ranging threat the Trump court-packing strategy now poses to the rights of millions of Americans. The key issue areas are:
- Access to health care
- Civil rights and equal employment opportunity
- Civil rights and LGBTQ Americans
- Civil rights and Native Americans
- Civil rights – persons with disabilities
- Civil rights and racial equity
- Civil rights – voting rights
- Consumers’ rights
- Criminal justice
- Death penalty
- Executive power and civil liberties
- First Amendment – Church and state
- First Amendment – Freedom of the press
- Gun safety
- Money in Politics
- Reproductive rights
- Women’s equality – Sexual harassment and assault
- Workers’ rights
The full AFJ report, Trump’s Attacks on Our Justice System: President Trump, the Federal Judiciary and the 115th Congress, can be found here.
Individual reports on Trump judicial nominees are linked in the report, and can also be found listed separately by nominee name here.