In an under-discussed push to "reshape the courts in Donald Trump's image for decades to come," the Senate this week is quietly gearing up to confirm a slew of federal judges who critics say have records littered with "breathtaking hostility toward civil rights and equal justice."
"Rather than change his policies or passing legislation, President Trump is seeking to pack the courts with extremists."
—Vanita Gupta, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
The packed week of hearings began on Tuesday, when three Senate Democrats—Tim Kaine (Va.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.)—joined their Republican colleagues in voting to confirm circuit court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who has in the past called the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision "erroneous" and suggested that Obamacare's employer birth control mandate amounted to "an assault on religious liberty."
"With a lifetime appointment, Barrett can impose her extreme anti-choice ideology onto women and families for much longer than Donald Trump will occupy the White House," said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue in a statement following the Senate vote. "Barrett's confirmation proves that the anti-choice GOP is more concerned with advancing its out-of-touch agenda than upholding our basic human rights."
Barrett was just the first of a number of votes on Trump judicial nominees that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has scheduled over the next several days—"an incredible amount of activity on judges in one week," observed the Huffington Post's Jennifer Bendery.
"If all goes according to McConnell's plan, by week's end the Senate will have confirmed 13 Trump judges, including a [Michigan State] Supreme Court Justice and eight judges to the courts of appeals," wrote Kyle Barry, policy counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), in a Medium post on Tuesday.
Some of the court nominees the Senate will consider this week include:
- Leonard Steven Grasz, who has been deemed "not qualified" by the American Bar Association;
- Allison Eid, who The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights says (pdf) has "consistently rejected civil rights and public interest claims, often in dissent";
- Joan Larson, who has been denounced (pdf) by 27 rights groups for holding views that are "fundamentally at odds with the notion that LGBTQ people are entitled to equality, liberty, justice, and dignity under the law";
- Stephanos Bibas, who argued in a 2015 National Review article that the war on drugs should not be blamed for mass incarceration; and
- Mark Norris, who Leadership Conference president Vanita Gupta argues has a "shocking" record of opposing marriage equality and supporting discriminatory voter ID laws.
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Because the Trump-appointed judges' hearings have garnered so little attention in the media, lawmakers and civil rights organizations are doing all they can to sound the alarm.
"These nominees' collective records reveal the disturbing truth that this administration does not just tolerate radical anti-equality views among its judicial nominees, but requires them," LDF's Kyle Barry argued.
"Rather than change his policies or passing legislation, President Trump is seeking to pack the courts with extremists," Gupta of The Leadership Conference added in a statement. "Senate Republicans are shirking their independent constitutional role by rubber stamping these nominees."
"We have two justice systems in America—one for the rich and powerful and one for everyone else."
—Sen. Elizabeth WarrenIn a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed the critiques of rights groups and slammed the aggressive judicial push as part of a broader effort by Trump and the GOP to "make government work better and better for the rich and the powerful."
"We have two justice systems in America—one for the rich and powerful and one for everyone else," Warren said. "Part of the way we fix that problem is by making sure that we put judges on the federal bench who are fair, impartial, and committed to dispensing equal justice under law....Rejecting judicial nominees who will make it worse is a really good first step."
Watch Warren's full speech: