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Sarah Pitlyk (R) is seen with other former law clerks for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at an event at the Heritage Foundation on August 9, 2018.

Sarah Pitlyk (R) is seen with other former law clerks for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at an event at the Heritage Foundation on August 9, 2018. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Trump's Rightward Shift of Federal Courts Advances as Senate Confirms Anti-Choice Sarah Pitlyk


Andrea Germanos

Democrats and progressive groups expressed outrage after the U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to confirm lawyer Sarah Pitlyk for a lifetime appointment on the federal bench.

The 49-44 vote to confirm Pitlyk for judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri continues the Trump administration's rapid, rightward shift of the federal courts, an accomplishment about which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell regularly brags.

Currently special counsel at the anti-choice law firm Thomas More Society, Pitlyk was previously clerk to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was judge for the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia Circuit. Pitlyk was among a group of Kavanaugh's former female law clerks who wrote to the Senate to express their "uniformly positive experiences" with Kavanaugh, who stands accused of sexual assault, during his confirmation process.

Pitlyk's record, according to Marge Baker, PFAW's executive vice president for policy and program, "is one of the worst we've seen among Trump judicial nominees." NARAL Pro-Choice America president lyse Hogue, for her part, called Pitlyk's confirmation to the Missouri federal court "a dream come true for the anti-choice movement and a profound danger to women and families in the state."

Among the factors driving the criticism is that the American Bar Association, in a letter (pdf) to the Senate in September, unanimously said that Pitlyk was "not qualified" for the position, citing her lack of "requisite trail or litigation experience or its equivalent."

In addition, HuffPost reported Tuesday on how Pitlyk has written and spoken against fertility treatments and surrogacy—a record that prompted Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) to write an op-ed published Wednesday at The Hill urging her colleagues to vote no. She wrote, "if Donald Trump's recent judicial nominees has her way, thousands of women like me may never be able to become moms."

Pitlyk's problematic background goes further, lawyers Kimya Forouzan and Jacqueline Tosto wrote at Wednesday.

Pitlyk's advocacy as a lawyer has focused on policies that unequally harm women of color, such as her work supporting the Title X final rule, which disproportionately limits access to reproductive health care for women of color. She also co-authored an amicus brief in opposition to insurance coverage of birth control for employees, and has publicly opposed the Affordable Care Act, which has significantly expanded health-care access for communities of color.

One of the most concerning aspects of Pitlyk's work is her misguided advocacy for bans on so-called race- and sex-selective abortion. These bans prohibit abortion providers from performing abortions if the provider knows or suspects that a pregnant person’s reason for the abortion is the race or sex of the fetus. But those suspicions are often rooted in harmful racist stereotypes—as are Pitlyk's arguments.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called Pitlyk's confirmation "deeply distubring" and said Pitlyk "has spent her career focused on restricting reproductive rights and women's access to healthcare."

Planned Parenthood Action's reaction to Pitlyk's confirmation was similarly bleak.

"Missourians already have to navigate an impossible landscape just to access abortion," the group said. "Sarah Pitlyk's confirmation to a lifetime federal judgeship now puts their health and rights in even greater jeopardy. Appalling."

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