Advocacy group Demand Justice on Tuesday urged Democratic presidential candidates to apply the same focus on the future of the entire federal judicial branch that President Donald Trump did in 2016, a focus which allowed him to immediately begin shaping the courts for generations to come when he took office.
Democratic candidates, the group said, should put significant thought into the kinds of judges they would nominate for federal seats and let voters know what they can expect from the judiciary under their potential administrations.
"In 2016, Donald Trump released a shortlist of possible Supreme Court picks, and it succeeded in rallying conservative voters to his side," Demand Justice wrote. "In 2020, the Democratic candidates running for president should also state what kind of justices they would appoint. Doing so would show their commitment to the Supreme Court as an issue and draw a clear line in the sand about what is at stake in the coming election."
NEW: We're calling on the Democratic candidates for President to say who they would nominate for the Supreme Court. We have 32 names of great progressive lawyers ready for their consideration. See our shortlist here: https://t.co/nht61HI0Rv pic.twitter.com/fFercK2vHc
— Demand Justice (@WeDemandJustice) October 15, 2019
Trump's success in nominating judges has led to a federal appeals court system where six out of 10 judges are former corporate lawyers. Demand Justice's own shortlist of 32 potential progressive nominees aims to counter that right-wing tilt and includes attorneys whose work has been focused on racial justice, civil rights, and human rights.
"The combination of rising corporate power and eroding legal protections for workers and consumers has resulted in a system that empowers corporations to take advantage of individuals with near-impunity," Demand Justice wrote earlier this year. "This trend has fed the massive transfer of wealth and political power away from everyday Americans and toward large corporations and their shareholders."
"The next Democratic president must nominate judges who represent the antithesis of this," the group added.
Demand Justice also drew attention to the Republican Senate's tactics over the last several years as the party accumulated more and more judicial power—such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refusing to hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in the last months of President Obama's administration, a move that enabled Trump to nominate Justice Neil Gorsuch; Republican senators' and Justice Brett Kavanaugh's conduct during Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings in 2018; and McConnell's use of the "nuclear option" for all presidential nominees, which allows the GOP to push through nominees with a simple majority.
"While Democrats play by the rules, Republicans are shredding the rule book, and the result is a partisan Supreme Court that works for corporations and the Republican Party and against everyone else," Demand Justice chief counsel Christopher Kang said in a statement.
The group's shortlist includes longtime racial and criminal justice reform advocates Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson; Nicole Berner, general counsel for the SEIU; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights CEO Vanita Gupta, who has also served in the Civil Rights division at the Justice Department; and Judge Carlton Reeves, an Obama appointee who has blocked and sharply criticized some of the most extreme anti-choice laws put forward under the Trump administration.
"Democrats running for president...should be bold enough to pick someone who's worked to defend civil rights, workers' rights, or reproductive rights" to serve on the nation's highest courts, tweeted Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon.
Formal federal civil rights prosecutor Chiraag Bains praised Demand Justice for including on its shortlist people with "serious intellectual firepower, a history of being proximate to suffering, and a commitment to the Constitution's core democratic values."
What a list. The people on it have serious intellectual firepower, a history of being proximate to suffering, and a commitment to the Constitution’s core democratic values. https://t.co/Ih2GKbO1TR
— Chiraag Bains (@chiraagbains) October 15, 2019
"This is a very effective demonstration of how easily a Democratic president could find very progressive SCOTUS nominees if they wanted to," tweeted Vox journalist Ian Millhiser.
Demand Justice also called on the news media—particularly the CNN and New York Times journalists who are moderating the Democratic debate on Thursday evening—to address the question of who the candidates might nominate to federal court seats.
— Demand Justice (@WeDemandJustice) October 14, 2019
"We need you to ask about the courts at the Democratic debate," Demand Justice wrote. "The GOP has hijacked our nation's courts, and voters need to hear plans to fight back."