As GOP Deploys ‘Nuclear Option’, New Reports Detail Damage Done By Trump’s Far-Right Takeover of Judiciary

Yves here. From time to time, we’ve pointed out how the hysteria over Trump and Russia has created a Democrat-friendly image of a bunkered. ineffective president. Despite Trump wasting a lot of energy on his wall, he has been putting in place quite a few elements of a fiercely pro-corporate agenda, such as further weakening regulations and oversight, as well as packing the Federal courts with young conservative judges.

By Julia Conley, a staff writer for Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

As Senate Republicans rammed through a rules change enabling faster approval of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, two advocacy groups released reports on Wednesday showing the far-reaching and long-lasting damage his confirmed federal judges have already inflicted on the nation.

People for the American Way (PFAW) and Alliance for Justice (AFJ) both published studies Wednesday about Trump’s success in appointing 92 judges to district courts, federal appeals courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court—with PFAW writing that the president’s effort to remake the judicial branch in his own image could be disastrous for a number of marginalized groups.

“In just under two years on the bench, these narrow-minded elitist judges have already harmed workers, consumers, voters, immigrants, reproductive rights, and many more,” wrote the group in its report, “Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears.”

The report was published shortly before the GOP-controlled Senate triggered the so-called “nuclear option” by voting 51-48 to allow the approval of most executive nominations with a simple majority vote. Trump’s future judicial nominees will be subject to just two hours of debate instead of an additional 30 hours.

Trump’s two most high-profile appointments so far are those of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, whose most recent pro-death penalty ruling was called “bloodthirsty” and “atrocious” by critics.

But the groups also highlighted the 37 judges who now have seats on the District Court of Appeals, which often has final say in federal cases that do not make it to the Supreme Court.

Trump’s influence has made its way into the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, where four of his appointees upheld an Ohio law barring funding to Planned Parenthood; and the 7th Circuit, where four judges appointed by Trump went against federal law when they ruled that older workers cannot claim discrimination by their employers.

“The record number of judges appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate to lifetime posts on the Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals is by far the biggest impact thus far of the Trump presidency,” PFAW Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg said in a statement.

During his time in office, Trump has rapidly remade the judiciary compared to his predecessor. Due to unprecedented levels of obstruction by the Republicans in the Senate—a minority party at the time—former President Barack Obama was only able to appoint 16 appellate judges to circuit courts two years into his presidency, while Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate have pushed through nearly twice as many.

PFAW and AFJ pointed to judges including Amy Coney Barrett, on the 7th Circuit appeals court, as an example of how Trump’s judiciary appointments—which often go largely unnoticed by the public and the corporate media—will have far-reaching effects on marginalized communities.

As detailed in AFJ’s report—titled Trump’s Attacks on Our Justice System  (pdf)—Barrett ruled in 2017 that a corporation should be permitted to racially segregate a workplace, has criticized proposed reforms for sentencing guidelines, and voted to overturn a law banning people convicted of felonies from buying firearms.

“Why do these appointments matter? Of our three branches of government, two and a half are now squarely in the control of the current conservative Republican party,” wrote former U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin in the GuardianWednesday. “This is the party that seeks to roll back a hundred years of progress with respect to women’s rights, racial justice, equal opportunity, workers’ rights, environmental protection and, of course, voting rights. The federal courts will soon be the last place to go to seek justice. We can only hope that our state courts remain up to the task of ensuring justice for all. It is unlikely they will find comfort in the federal courts.”

AFJ noted that Trump’s rapid-fire remaking of the judicial branch of government also has implications for how he is treated by the courts. Trump faces investigations into his charity and business dealings as well as a number of cases regarding his possible violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause—and at least one of his Supreme Court appointees has indicated that he believes a sitting president cannot be indicted.

“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,” she added.

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  1. urblintz

    The Democrats have been approving conservative, corporate judicial nominees for decades. The blocking of progressive judges by the GOP does not change that fact. Trump is the last and most fatal stage of the malignant cancer that is our corrupt polity and it’s been a bi-partisan affliction for much longer than the lethal buffoon has held the WH. This article rightly brings home the venality of a Republican controlled Senate but it has required a lot of help from the other side to arrive at this pernicious point in history. And one need not look very far in the past to see the “collusion.”

  2. Lambert Strether

    It’s [family blogging] ridiculous. Reid did his own version of the nuclear option in 2013, also for judges. If Obama had used the nuclear option in 2009-2010 for #MedicareForAll or a decent stimulus package, we’d probably have amended the Constitution and he’d be doing his third term now. But n-o-o-o-o-o-o!!!! As usual, Democrats are about taking office, Republicans are about taking power….

    1. Another Scott

      Obama also seemed to put less emphasis on filling the courts with Democrats than Trump is. This is a long time weakness of Democrats. If they were so concerned about right-wing courts, including the Supreme Court, they could have also gone further and expanding them, creating opportunities for Obama to put in justices who would be more sympathetic to non-corporate and non-prosecutor causes. Understanding that the courts are political animals and how to use this to one’s advantage is something than neither liberals nor the left seems to understand, but the right does.

      1. Pat

        Pillows would be an improvement. Much of the time they clean and load the gun before handing it to the Republicans.

    2. polecat

      Superficial aspects aside, the Ds & the Rs are of the same team* … of the Party of GIMMME !

      * the deep similarities of which Conley chooses to ignore.

  3. redleg

    This is why a Constitutional Convention is appealing. Its a huge gamble, but that the system isn’t working out for most Americans is certain.

    1. The Rev Kev

      That idea is not appealing – it is appalling. Consider the fact that the Koch brothers and ALEC have been pushing for one for years now. It would be a completely rigged game and it would be people like the Koch brothers that would be deciding what to add to the US Constitution – or to remove. And whatever changes they made would be permanent as they might stick an amendment in outlawing future Constitutional Conventions. Good luck in trying to keep your bill of Rights and you can be sure that the government would be putting in their own ideas courtesy of these people.

      1. Samuel Conner

        I have read that agenda item #1 for a Koch-inspired constitutional convention would be a permanent austerity balanced budget amendment.

        As MMT ideas get more and more attention and even grudging respect, I imagine that the push will get stronger for a convention and a constitutional permanent fiscal hobbling of the Federal government.

        Apres ce, le deluge

        1. JBird4049

          And whatever changes they made would be permanent as they might stick an amendment in outlawing future Constitutional Conventions.

          The changes would not be permanent as the violent response across the political and social spectrum would destroy it. I mean this directly and not in some metaphorical sense.

          1. Sanxi

            Ya well, until they have another convention to vote to undo that. Ok, there are two kinds of people those that say there are two kinds and those that don’t. But, overcoming that for the moment to say that this: history seems to imply you can learn something, which is as far as what humans do – nothing is permanent, nothing.

    2. Lambert Strether

      > a Constitutional Convention is appealing. Its a huge gamble

      If you’re a lawyer, you don’t ask a witness a question if you don’t know what the answer will be. I think a Constitutional Convention would be full of unpleasant surprises; a balanced budget requirement, for example.

  4. jfleni

    The same thing always happens when plug-ugly repugs take
    over, sometimes its moderated slightly when incoming repugs
    listen slightly to sincere objections from envirnmental activists; butterflies ,birdies,harmless critters, it’s all the same
    to them, dig a hole let it fill up with grease, and scream GIMME!

  5. Michael

    America is not long for this world as a powerful democracy. With China overtaking us economically, Russia overtaking us militarily and with growing influence in the Middle East and Latin America, and America’s inherent desire to eat itself at the altar of corporatism, the end is in sight.

  6. shinola

    “…The other [purpose] is to protect himself from legal jeopardy.”

    My guess is that this is the main purpose. Trump does nothing if he sees no benefit, immediate or future, to himself. Packing the courts with corporate friendly judges fits right in with his own self-interest.

    That his policies & appointments may harm or benefit anyone else is of no consequence to him. We are just “collateral damage.”

  7. drb48

    The federal courts will soon be the last place to go to seek justice. We can only hope that our state courts remain up to the task of ensuring justice for all. It is unlikely they will find comfort in the federal courts.

    A faint hope given that the federal appellate courts can overrule a state court decision not to the liking of conservatives.

  8. Bob


    This misses an important point –

    While the courts are being packed with “Conservatives” this is a misnomer.

    The congress is pretty much amoral and cares not one whit whether the judges are liberal or conservative.
    They care only that the money continues to flow to politicians. We need only to look to the Citizen’s United case in which PACs can provide unlimited donations while ordinary citizens are limited to some $ 5K..
    The real question ought to be “Why does the Federalist Society get to pick the judicial nominees ?”
    “Who are the Federalists?”
    And how much money “donations” is being paid.

  9. DHG

    I have applied my nuclear option to McConnells home state of Kentucky including to my love of Jim Beam, not a penny to anything coming from the state till he is permanently removed from power and put out to pasture. The man is a confederate and a danger to the Union.

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