Highlighting the degree to which the Trump administration is reshaping the judiciary, the Senate on Tuesday confirmed Kyle Duncan—"a darling of right-wing social crusaders"—to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The confirmation, said The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, "should send shockwaves across the nation."
Among those "sounding alarm" on Duncan—ultimately confirmed 50-47 by the Republican majority, with one Democratic vote coming from Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.)—was Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Though "the Trump administration from day one has made attacking basic civil liberties a guiding principle of the policies it supports," Blumenthal said Tuesday that "President Trump's attempts to stack our courts with extremist judges may in the end have the most long-lasting and devastating impacts."
And Duncan, Blumenthal added in a statement, "is straight out of the Stone Age" and "is almost a Saturday Night Live caricature of the judicial nominees who have come from the Trump administration."
"Time and again," added Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), "Mr. Duncan has been on the wrong side of justice."
Indeed, Duncan's background had sparked outrage from numerous members of Congress and civil liberties groups who said his record on issues from marriage equality to women's health to "his stalwart support of legislative efforts to curb the right of people of color to exercise the right to vote" bode ill for the notion of equal justice under the law.
Today, the Senate confirmed Kyle Duncan for the federal bench.
Duncan has argued against protections for transgender people and once said marriage equality "would do an incalculable damage to our civic life." pic.twitter.com/MhoqtwcB8y
— ACLU (@ACLU) April 24, 2018
"Quite simply, Duncan is bughouse on the subject of gay people and trans people and any other person whose sexuality gives Duncan the jittery Jesus vapors," Charles Pierce writes at Esquire.
Charlotte Clymer of Human Rights Campaign offers this background:
Duncan's record of anti-LGBTQ advocacy is alarming. He represented the Gloucester County School Board in their case against Gavin Grimm, the transgender high school student whose restroom access was restricted based on his transgender status. He advocated on behalf of Louisiana in the state's bid to uphold its same-sex marriage ban and wrote an amicus brief for Louisiana and 14 other states arguing against the fundamental right to marry in the landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges. He also argued that a couple married in New York could not have their names added to the birth certificate of a child they adopted in Louisiana because the state did not recognize same-sex marriages at the time and its adoption statute does not allow unmarried couples to adopt.
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) had also urged the Senate to reject Duncan. It called his nomination a continuation of the president's "assault on civil rights and civil liberties" and suggested those who helped approve him were "nothing less than complicit in a nationwide effort to turn back the clock on racial equality and progress in this country." In its letter to Senate leaders, the CBC noted:
[Duncan] drafted a brief to the Supreme Court urging it to reject a lower court's determination that North Carolina's voter ID law discriminated against black voters with "surgical precision." He played a similar role in litigation defending the Texas legislature's discriminatory voter ID law. The Fifth Circuit is home to millions of African American citizens. Mr. Duncan's appointment to a life-long position on this important body is an insult to black Americans nationwide. His nomination is yet another in a string of nominations that has offended the black community and imperiled equal protection principles in our country, endangering real legal protections that people have fought and died to secure.
Adding up the record number of judicial nominees Trump made during his first year, Kate Harloe writes at Mother Jones that the toll "show[s] a president who is working hard to cement a judiciary, and a legacy, that will last long beyond his term."
Echoing that point, Axios's Khorri Atkinson wrote: "The federal courts carry significant weight in almost every area of policy: gun rights, executive power, LGBT rights, freedom of religion, etc, and have blocked multiple Trump initiatives in his first year. Trump's picks of young, conservative judges for the lifetime appointments will far outlast his presidency."
With such impacts in mind, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, called on the Senate to "stop rubber stamping Trump's judicial nominees with narrow-minded views, and instead demand fair-minded jurists who will approach every case with neutrality and an open mind."