Deeply Troubling and Unfit for the Bench: Judicial Nominees to Watch This Week

Trump and Senate Republicans continue to shamelessly stack our federal courts with more ideological extremists. 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.

(Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons)

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out four judicial nominees to the full Senate, including Sarah Pitlyk (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri), who is unfit and unqualified for a lifetime position. Pitlyk has built a career out of eroding reproductive rights and lacks the experience required to serve on our federal courts, earning her a Not Qualified rating by the ABA. She was nominated by a President who has advertised as a central goal of his administration the rush of nominees who will support his ultra-conservative agenda and roll back out civil rights, including reproductive rights, of Americans. 

We anticipated that controversial anti-civil rights nominees Steven Menashi (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York) and Halil “Sul” Ozerden (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Mississippi) might be reported out as well, but the Committee again held over these nominations. They are expected to be listed on the Thursday, November 7, Senate Judiciary Committee markup agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture on five judicial nominees last week, including Lee Rudofsky (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas), teeing them up for cloture and final votes this week. David Tapp (U.S. Court of Federal Claims), and Danielle Hunsaker (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Oregon) were confirmed this week, and cloture will be invoked on the three others by end of day Wednesday, November 6: William Nardini (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Massachusetts), Jennifer Wilson (U.S. District Court for Middle District of Pennsylvania) and Lee Rudofsky (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas).

“As Donald Trump celebrates appointing unqualified and biased nominees to lifetime positions, the rest of us are left to lament,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement following Trump’s remarks today on judicial nominations. “The majority of his nominees have long records of hostility to civil and human rights, have not shown they will be fair and independent, and too many are unqualified. Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans are transforming our federal courts because their agenda is failing in Congress and in the court of public opinion. Harming our nation by placing party over country is nothing to congratulate yourself about.”

Lee Rudofsky (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas)

Lee Rudofsky is another consistently ultraconservative, hyper-partisan jurist who is being rewarded for his loyalty to the Republican party—which we have come to expect from the GOP in their effort to use the courts as their primary vehicle to catapult their political agenda.

Rudofsky has made a career out of curtailing critical civil rights and protections. He has worked to advance an extreme right-wing agenda on reproductive freedom and racial justice, and he defended numerous efforts to restrict the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ individuals—including Arlene’s Flowers, Inc. v. WashingtonPavan v. Smith and Protect Fayetteville v. City of Fayetteville. Furthermore, he has challenged the constitutionality of reproductive rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and has effectively asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood. On voting rights, he defended a discriminatory Arkansas photo ID law, and listed Haas v. Martin as his most significant case on his Senate questionnaire.

Rudofsky is unfit and would bring a clear bias to the bench. The Senate should reject him for a lifetime judgeship.

Read The Leadership Conference’s letter in opposition to the confirmation of Lee Rudofsky.

Halil “Sul” Ozerden (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Mississippi) and Steven Menashi (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York)

Sul Ozerden, Donald Trump’s controversial Circuit Court nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has been held over yet again by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ozerden, who was first opposed by Senator Ted Cruz because he failed to meet his “political litmus test,” went out of his way to curry favor with GOP senators and tried to demonstrate the numerous ways in which he has demonstrated allegiance to conservative causes.

Steven Menashi’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is also deeply troubling. Menashi, who has worked for both Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, as well as Trump in his White House Counsel’s Office, is one of Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees. 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 Menashi to disclose his involvement in 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 no doubt that “Steven Menashi would be Betsy DeVos, Stephen Miller and Donald Trump in one, clothed in a judge’s robe.” He is opposed by immigration 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—an alert that would have traditionally barred his nomination from moving forward. But Senate Republicans have repeatedly trampled on tradition after tradition to shamelessly rush through more of Trump’s ideological extremists throughout our federal courts. 

Lastly, Senator Susan Collins has publicly announced her opposition to Menashi, as she is concerned with his record and finds it “inappropriate” that he refused to answer questions regarding his work with the White House during his hearing. “I do not believe he is well-suited to serve on the federal bench,” she stated.

The Senate must exert its independence and repudiate these nominees’ disturbing positions by denying both Ozerden and Menashi a lifetime appointment on the federal judiciary.

The fact is that Donald Trump and the Senate Majority are rushing to stack the bench with conservative extremists who have demonstrated an ‘ideological purity’ in order to advance their policy objectives.

Read The Leadership Conference’s letter in opposition to the confirmation of Halil “Sul” 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 Menashi on the basis of his record on immigration.


Rafael Medina is the communications manager at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.