Originally published on 

By Senator Dianne Feinstein

The Senate has confirmed 200 of President Trump’s judicial nominees, roughly 23 percent of all federal judgeships. That includes 53 to the nation’s appellate courts, the court immediately under the Supreme Court.

What emerges from this group of new judges is a judiciary stacked with young conservative ideologues, many of whom lack basic judicial qualifications.

As ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I’ve been part of efforts to block President Trump’s most troubling judicial picks. While I believe each nominee deserves to be assessed on his or her own merits, I will continue to oppose any nominees whose views are outside the judicial mainstream.

As part of the confirmation process, the committee receives a rating by the nonpartisan American Bar Association for each nominee to a district or circuit court. These evaluations tell us about a nominee’s “professional competence, integrity and judicial temperament.”

During his eight years office, President Obama didn’t nominate a single individual who received a “not qualified” ABA rating. In contrast, in just four years President Trump has nominated nine individuals rated “not qualified” to serve as federal judges.

Of those nine nominees, seven were confirmed for lifetime appointments to the bench, including three that Senate Republicans jammed through last year: Justin Walker, Sarah Pitlyk and Lawrence VanDyke. Judiciary Committee Democrats opposed all three nominees, and the ABA ratings factored in those decisions.

Regarding Walker and Pitlyk, nominated to trial courts in the Western District of Kentucky and Eastern District of Missouri respectively, the ABA noted a complete lack of trial experience for each. Walker was then elevated to a seat on the DC Circuit Court just seven months later, despite the fact he hadn’t presided over a single bench or jury trial since his confirmation to the district court.

For VanDyke, nominated to a Nevada seat on the 9th Circuit, the ABA raised significant concerns regarding his temperament, work ethic and ability to be impartial.

An obvious question is why President Trump and Senate Republicans keep confirming unqualified nominees to lifetime appointments on the federal bench. The answer may lie in the extreme views of the nominees and their and troubling records on issues like voting rights, health care, women’s reproductive rights, LGBT rights, gun safety and executive power.

For instance, Walker has argued against the independence of the FBI and in favor of curbing the ability of federal agencies to protect clean air and water, worker health and safety, and other important objectives.[1] He also wrote publicly about his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, one of many Trump nominees opposed to that law.

Pitlyk spent her legal career working to undermine a woman’s right to choose.[2] She defended unconstitutional state bans on abortion and supported the Trump administration’s Title X “gag rule,” which severely limits access to health care for low-income women and families. She is also a staunch opponent of the ACA, claiming the Supreme Court was “unprincipled” in its decision protecting health care for millions of Americans.

VanDyke has amassed a record opposing equal rights for LGBT Americans. In a 2004 opinion piece, he wrote there is “ample reason for concern that same-sex marriage will hurt families, and consequentially children and society.” Lambda Legal, a leading LGBT rights organization, characterized this claim as a “stigmatizing and disproven myth,” yet VanDyke repeatedly refused to disavow his statements during his confirmation process.

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only judges confirmed with such extreme views. Senate Republicans confirmed a number of individuals whose writings, speeches and rulings place them far outside the judicial mainstream.

 Four quick examples:

  • Chad Readler, a 6th Circuit appointee, led the Trump administration’s efforts to take health insurance away from millions of Americans.[3]
  • Neomi Rao, a D.C. Circuit appointee, wrote of date rape that if a woman “drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice.”
  • Steven Menashi, a 2nd Circuit appointee, helped orchestrate an illegal Department of Education effort to prevent students defrauded by for-profit colleges from obtaining debt relief.[4]

And Cory Wilson, a 5th Circuit Appointee, supported numerous restricting voting measures and expressed criticism of the Voting Rights Act.[5] Yet the Trump administration and Senate Republicans still pushed his nomination through in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic after states like Georgia and Wisconsin disenfranchised thousands of voters through poll closures, broken voting machines and the failure to send requested absentee ballots.

The public should have full confidence that judges will be qualified and impartial arbiters of the law. Looking at the extreme records of so many of President Trump’s appointees, that’s far from certain.

Senate Democrats will continue to oppose nominees whose records are antithetical to the everyday interests of Americans. But it’s vital that the public also take up this fight and make your voices heard.

The courts affect every single one of us, so it’s crucial that we have a judiciary that upholds our country’s laws and values. That won’t be the case if Senate Republicans keep confirming President Trump’s extreme judicial nominees.

[1] See, e.g., Justin Walker, FBI Independence as a Threat to Civil Liberties: An Analogy to Civilian Control of the Military, 86 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 1011 (2018); Justin Walker, The Kavanaugh Court and the Schechter-to-Chevron Spectrum: How the New Supreme Court Will Make the Administrative State More Democratically Accountable (forthcoming).

[2] E.g., Brief of the Restoration Project et al. as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioners, Box v. Planned Parenthood of Ind. & Ky., 2018 WL 6042850 (Nov. 15, 2018); Brief of Amicus Curia Susan B. Anthony List in Support of Defendants-Appellants and Reversal, State of California v. Azar, 2019 WL 2538007 (June 10, 2019).

[3] See, e.g., Federal Defendants’ Memorandum in Response to Plaintiffs’ Application for Preliminary Injunction, Texas v. United States, No. 4:18-cv-00167-O (N.D. Tx. June 7, 2018).

[4] Erica L. Green, Appeals Court Nominee Shaped DeVos’s Illegal Loan Forgiveness Effort, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2019).

[5] See, e.g., Cory Wilson, Desperate Times, Desperate Measures, Madison Cnty. J. (Oct. 20, 2011); Cory Wilson, Voter ID, DOJ, and the IRS’s Presidential Enemies List, Press Register (June 9, 2013); Speech to the Winona Rotary Club (Oct. 2, 2009).