This Week in Judicial Nominees: One of the Most Controversial Yet

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out two Circuit Court nominees,Danielle Hunsaker (Ninth Circuit, Oregon) and William Nardini(Second Circuit Connecticut), as well as two district court nominees, Karen Marston (Eastern District of Pennsylvania) and Anuraag Singhal (Southern District of Florida). We anticipated that controversial nominees, Steven Menashi (Second Circuit, New York), Halil Ozerden (Fifth Circuit, Mississippi) and Sarah Pitlyk (Eastern District of Missouri) to also be reported out, but they and a few other nominees were instead held over and are on the agenda of the next Senate Judiciary Committee markup on October 31. 

Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell sped his nominee for the Western District of Kentucky, Justin Walker, to a narrow confirmation on Thursday, October 24. Walker, who is clearly unqualified and unfit for a lifetime seat based on his significant lack of trail experience, is now a federal judge having been rewarded by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his relentless loyalty in support of Kavanaugh during the tumultuous Supreme Court nomination fight last year.

This week, Trump and Senate Republicans will continue to place party over country in their pursuit to stack our federal courts with loyalists who are ideological extremists. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a markup, and among the nominees expected to receive votes are controversial nominees Steven Menashi (Second Circuit, New York), Halil Ozerden (Fifth Circuit, Mississippi) and Sarah Pitlyk (Eastern District of Missouri). Senator Susan Collins announced that she will oppose Menashi’s nomination and momentum against his confirmation is building. No floor votes nor hearings on judicial nominations are scheduled this week.

While McConnell did not file cloture on any judicial nominations last week, he could potentially do so this week when they return and continue to shamelessly rush through more lifetime confirmations to our federal courts. The total number of confirmations to lifetime appointments on the federal bench under Trump is now 157—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.

The Senate Republican agenda is crystal clear: transform the courts as quickly as possible to achieve through them what the Republican party cannot accomplish legislatively to significantly roll back civil and human rights and 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 (Fifth Circuit, Mississippi) and Steven Menashi (Second Circuit, New York)

Donald Trump’s controversial circuit court nominee Halil Ozerden has been held over twice now by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The lack of support for this nominationincluding from Republican Senators, indicates that this nomination is deeply troubled and heading toward defeat. 

Senator Ted Cruz was the first to announce that he will oppose Ozerden, saying his concerns were not “satisfied” at the hearing. In doing so, Senator Cruz exposed the Senate Majority’s true agenda by enunciating their inappropriate loyalty test for Trump’s 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 testoutlined by Trump:

“Trump promised the American people he would nominate judges in the mold of Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas. 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.” 

Senator 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

Donald 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’s nomination is also deeply troubled. Menashi, who has worked for both U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as well as Trump in his White House Counsel’s Office, 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. What’s more, Senate Judiciary Democrats have called on Steven 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. Menashi has yet to respond.

If confirmed, there is not a doubt that “Steven Menashi would be Betsy DeVos, Stephen Miller and Donald Trump in a robe.” He is opposed by immigrant rights groupseducation groupsLGBTQ groupswomen’s organizations and faith groups, among many other organizations and coalitions. Additionally, he 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 tradition after tradition to help stack the courts with Trump’s ideological extremists.  

Senator Susan Collins has publicly announced her opposition to Menashi as she is concerned with his past record and finds it “inappropriate” that he refused to answer questions regarding his work with the White House during his hearing, going on to state she does “not believe he is well-suited to serve on the federal bench.” The Senate must exert its independence and repudiate his disturbing positions by denying Menashi a lifetime appointment on the federal judiciary.

Read The Leadership Conference’s letter in opposition to the confirmation of Halil Ozerden.

Read The Leadership Conference’s 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 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 previously clerked for now-Justice Kavanaugh and she was instrumental in vouching for him with conservatives, especially on health care, writing: “No other contender on President Trump’s list is on record so vigorously criticizing the [ACA].” She now serves as special counsel at the Thomas More Society, where she focuses on anti-abortion activism. Indeed, Pitlyk has defended the most extreme, anti-abortion laws our nation has seen—and was nominated by a President who has made it clear that he is nominating people who will restrict reproductive rights, endangering people’s lives.

Pitlyk’s lack of relevant experience is also disqualifying. This prompted the ABA to give her a unanimously Not Qualified rating. 

Read The Leadership Conference’s letter in opposition to the confirmation of Sarah Pitlyk.

About

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