(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) As President Trump released a list of judicial nominees on Monday that on paper have some of the strongest résumés imaginable, Senate Democrats and liberal interest groups unleashed a flurry of attacks, not against the nominees’ qualifications, but against their presumed ideologies.
“It seems that the President is intent on continuing to outsource the judicial selection process to hard right, special interest groups rather than consulting with Senators on a bipartisan basis,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, almost immediately after the choices were announced.
Trump nominated ten for judgeships: five each for federal appeals courts and federal district courts. Of the five nominees for federal courts of appeal, two of them (Joan Larsen and David Stras) currently sit on their states’ Supreme Courts, and those both clerked for U.S. Supreme Court justices after they graduated with multiple distinctions and awards from their respective law schools and undergraduate colleges. Another, Amy Coney Barrett, won Notre Dame Law School’s two highest awards and was executive editor of its law review before clerking for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. John Bush of Kentucky was executive editor of the Harvard Law Review before clerking for a federal judge; and Kevin Newsom, formerly the Solicitor General for the state of Alabama, was Harvard Law Review’s articles editor before clerking for Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
As the National Law Journal noted, two of the ten nominees are current law school professors and two formerly taught at law schools.
Liberal firebrand Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota echoed Schumer’s description of the nominees, also alleging they were chosen by “far-right Washington, D.C-based special interest groups.”
Leftist interest groups also weighed in. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, through its president, Wade Henderson, demanded that the left-leaning American Bar Association be given a chance to “rate” the nominees before their Senate hearings begin – but then said even that measure wouldn’t suffice.
“Even if these nominees for lifetime appointments are rated qualified by the American Bar Association, the ABA only screens for temperament, integrity, and experience,” he said (as if those traditional considerations were negligible). “It does not look at judicial philosophy. Many of today’s nominees likely have a judicial philosophy that makes them too ideologically extreme for confirmation. Their records must be given the highest level of scrutiny.”
The board of the Leadership Conference is made up of a “who’s who” of leaders of other liberal interest groups, and is chaired by Judith Lichtman, who also sits on the boards of the pro-abortions “rights” EMILY’s List and the self-styled “progressive” think tank called the Center for American Progress.
Likewise, Nan Aron of the left-wing Alliance for Justice said she fears the new nominees might be “ultraconservatives” and promised her group would be “scrutinizing these nominees very carefully.”
For the liberal groups, the scrutiny clearly will not be about what even those groups admit are the “distinguished records” of the nominees, but instead, as Jay Michaelson wrote in The Daily Beast, “it’s about beliefs.” The People For the American Way clearly is, well, extremely opposed to those supposed beliefs; the left-wing group called the selections “extremely troubling” nominees who will “advance [Trump’s] extreme agenda” such as his “extreme and unconstitutional Muslim ban.”
Conservatives, naturally, seemed universally thrilled with Trump’s choices. Curt Levey, director of Legal Affairs for the FreedomWorks Foundation and a veteran of many court nomination battles, said they would be “brilliant conservative judges.” Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, said Trump has picked “an exceptional slate” of “highly qualified and principled” nominees.
John Malcolm, legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation, said it is “an outstanding group of ten” who “are very bright people who have written a lot on legal issues, and they’re certainly intellectually rigorous.”
And the conservative editorialists at the Wall Street Journal took a shot at Democratic obstructionism while praising Trump’s list. They wrote that the group has such “sterling credentials [that they] will be hard to obstruct for reasons beyond raw partisanship.”
Partisanship alone won’t block these nominees from becoming judges, as almost every outlet was sure to note. Due to a change in Senate rules pushed through by Democrats a few years ago, lower-court judicial nominations may be blocked only by a majority of those voting, not by a minority filibuster as in years past. With 52 Republicans in the 100-member Senate, plus Republican vice-president Mike Pence available to break a tie, every single Senate Democrat would need to be joined in opposition by at least three Republicans in order to defeat a nominee. That is unlikely to happen, according to most vote counters.
If these and later Trump nominees are indeed confirmed, it will merely re-balance the courts, not make them overwhelmingly conservative. As the Journal concluded, “According to the Brookings Institution, as of September 2016 there were 92 liberal appellate judges and 75 conservatives. It’s time to redress the balance in the 115th Congress while Republicans have a Senate majority.”