Anti-Abortion Zealots and Betsy DeVos Enablers: Judicial Nominees to Watch This Week

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans will continue to place party over country in their pursuit to stack our federal courts with loyalists who are ideological extremists. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a markup this week, and among the nominees expected to receive votes are Sarah Pitlyk (Eastern District of Missouri) and controversial nominee Steven Menashi (Second Circuit Court of Appeals). 

Halil Ozerden (Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals) is also listed on the October 24th agenda, but it remains unclear whether he will get a vote. Chair Lindsey Graham did not bring up Ozerden last week because he did not have the votes to get him through committee—Sens. Cruz and Hawley oppose, and likely so do all 10 committee Democrats. No floor votes, nor hearings on judicial nominations, are scheduled this week.

Donald Trump and Senate Republicans are shamelessly rushing through more lifetime confirmations to our federal courts. The total number of confirmations to the federal bench under Trump has surpassed 150—nearly one-fifth of the entire federal judiciary, and one-quarter of all circuit court judgeships.

With the help of Senate Republicans, Trump is transforming courts across the country by appointing biased judges who will threaten the hard-fought civil and human rights of all Americans. Their agenda is crystal clear: transform the courts as quickly as possible to achieve through them what lawmakers cannot accomplish legislatively to secure long-term influence on the direction of the country. The Senate must put an end to this blatant disrespect to our judicial system, traditions and democracy.

(Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons)

Halil Ozerden (5th Circuit Court of Appeals) and Steven Menashi (2nd Circuit Court of Appeals)

In rare GOP dissent to Trump’s judicial nominees, Senator Ted Cruz announced that he will oppose Ozerden, saying his concerns were not “satisfied” at the hearing, where Cruz exposed the Senate Majority’s true agenda by enunciating their inappropriate loyalty test for judicial nominees. He revealed that nominees receive their support only when they have a reliable record that openly demonstrates that they have met the “political litmus test” outlined by Trump.

“Trump promised the American people he would nominate judges in the mold of Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas,” Cruz said. “One of the most significant legacies of the Trump presidency has been strong, principled Constitutionalists being nominated and confirmed to the Federal Courts of Appeals across the country.” Cruz went on to promote First Liberty Institute’s five extremist standards for their opposition to the nominee before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“He is not a conservative. He has never been affiliated with the conservative movement. He has never volunteered his time to advance conservative causes. He has never been active in conservative legal circles and he has never written any decisions that have advanced conservative principles.”

Ted Cruz

Ozerden, who also faces opposition from Republican Senator Josh Hawley, suffered another setback last Thursday, after the Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on his nomination. He lacks the votes needed to move forward and there’s no other way to put it: GOP senators might block judicial nominees, such as Ozerden, for not being extreme enough.

This “political litmus test” demonstrates what we have known all along: Trump and the Senate Majority are rushing to stack the bench with conservative extremists who have demonstrated their ideological purity. For our courts to be fair and impartial, all senators must reject this standard that judges must have demonstrated allegiance to a political party or ideology before they are confirmed.

Steven Menashi is one of the most controversial judicial nominees of the entire Trump presidency—and that’s saying a lot. From his offensive and incendiary college writings to his present-day post in the Trump administration, Menashi has advanced extreme viewpoints on numerous civil and human rights issues, including women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, racial justice, immigration and respect for the Muslim community.

Menashi is opposed by his New York home-state senators, which traditionally would have been a bar to Menashi’s nomination moving forward. But Senate Republicans have repeatedly trampled on this tradition in order to help stack the courts with Trump’s ideological extremists. The Senate must exert its independence and repudiate his disturbing positions by denying Menashi a lifetime appointment on the federal judiciary. His deeply held beliefs have infused his work as Secretary Betsy DeVos’ enabler at the Department of Education, as well as at the White House Counsel’s office as a member of Steven Miller’s Immigration Working Group

In his own words, Menashi “was responsible for providing legal advice related to all aspects of the Department’s operations, including litigation, rulemaking, regulation and enforcement” and indicated that he worked on a broad range of immigration issues. In both roles he worked to erode critical rights and legal protections for sexual assault survivors, LGBTQ people and educational equity for students, as well as for immigrants.

If confirmed, there is not a doubt in our minds that “Steven Menashi would be Betsy DeVos, Stephen Miller and Donald Trump in a robe.”

What’s more, Senate Judiciary Democrats have called on Menashi to disclose his involvement in Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Zelensky and the resulting whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry, and he has yet to respond.

You can read The Leadership Conference’s letter in opposition to the confirmation of Halil Ozerden and letter in opposition to the confirmation of Steven Menashi, as well as the letter from 28 groups in opposition to Steven Menashi on the basis of his record on immigration.

Sarah Pitlyk (Eastern District of Missouri)

Trump’s nominee to the U.S. District for the Eastern District of Missouri has built a career out of undermining reproductive health care, from abortion to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy to birth control. Pitlyk is also a former law clerk for Brett Kavanaugh who was instrumental in vouching for him with conservatives, especially on health care—writing that “no other contender on President Trump’s list is on record so vigorously criticizing the [ACA]”—and now serves as special counsel at the Thomas More Society, where she focuses on anti-abortion activism. Her biography there says she worked to defeat an “abortion sanctuary city” ordinance in St. Louis, and on “several landmark pro-life and religious liberty cases.”

Donald Trump is seeking out judicial nominees who will erode our reproductive rights, and Pitlyk’s radical record makes her the ideal candidate to carry out his extreme agenda. Her advocacy opposing reproductive health care goes far beyond her outspokenness in opposition to Roe: Pitlyk has also chided surrogacy as “harmful to children,” claiming it “diminishes respect for motherhood and the unique mother-child bond,” said that surrogacy is “a practice society should not be enforcing” and defended some of the most extreme anti-abortion laws. 

Pitlyk is now the 8th Trump nominee to be found Not Qualified, and one of four to be found unanimously Not Qualified—and that alone should disqualify her, if concerns about her dismal record are not enough.

You can read The Leadership Conference’s letter in opposition to the confirmation of Sarah Pitlyk.


This piece originally appeared on Medium. Republished with author permission.

About

Rafael Medina is the Communications Manager at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.