Weekly Judicial Watch: These Nominees Won’t Affirm the “Brown v. Board of Education” Decision

Trump promised to remake the federal judiciary in his image at a reckless rate by confirming more than 180 judges by the end of this year. With 164 judicial confirmations, Trump, enabled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is taking over our courts by installing unqualified and biased judicial nominees who jeopardize our civil rights. To date, together they have filled nearly one-fifth of the entire federal judiciary, and one-quarter of all circuit court judgeships. Stymied by Congress, Trump and McConnell are trying to transform our courts in order to implement the party’s failing agenda. And the harm caused by this deliberate attempt to roll back our civil and human rights by filling the courts with anti-civil rights nominees will be felt for decades to come.

The recent string of circuit court confirmations—including the confirmations of anti-civil rights nominees Steven Menashi (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York), Robert Luck(U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Florida) and Barbara Lagoa (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Florida)—are representative of the agenda to stack our courts. Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit is now the third appeals court to have a majority of Republican president-appointed judges, following the flip of the Second Circuit with the confirmation of Menashi.

This is significant: More than 99 percent of all federal cases are decided by district and circuit courts.

In addition to the confirmation of both Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, five judicial nominees advanced out of the Judiciary Committee to the full Senate. The nominees who are now awaiting final votes include Lawrence VanDyke (U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Nevada), Patrick Bumatay (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, California), Philip Halpern (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York), Bernard Jones (U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma) and Barbara Bailey Jongbloed (U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut).

On November 21, McConnell filed cloture on eight additional district court nominations before leaving town for recess—including Eric Komitee (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York), John Sinatra (U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York), Sarah Pitlyk (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri), Douglas Cole (U.S. District Court for theSouthern District of Ohio), Robert A. Huffaker (U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama), David Barlow (U.S. District Court for the District of Utah), Richard E. Myers (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina) and Sherri A. Lydon (U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina). The Senate will consider these nominations this week.

Andrew Brasher (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Alabama), another egregiously unfit nominee, will likely have his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 4. There will likely be four other nominees considered in addition to Brasher: Joshua Kindred (U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska), Fernando Aenlle-Rocha (U.S. District Court for theCentral District of California), Scott Rash (U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona), John Hinderaker (U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona) and Matthew Schelp (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri).

Every issue from immigrant justice to voting rights to health care is impacted by the decisions that judges make every day. The Senate Republicans’ plan to jam through nominees who threaten the integrity and independence of the judiciary must be stopped. Our rights depend upon it.

(Hillel Steinberg / Creative Commons)

Nominees Who Failed to State that Brown v. Board of Education was Correctly Decided

The Senate returns to session this week, following the Thanksgiving break, and one of the first orders of business will be the cloture and final votes on the nominations of Eric Komitee (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York) and John Sinatra (U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York). 

Komitee and Sinatra refused to unequivocally state that the landmark decision in Brown was correctly decided. We should not regress to the era when “separate but equal” was law, or even an open question. The American people and their justice system deserve better, and our leaders must uphold this moral floor. We are asking senators to vote against these two nominations.

Read The Leadership Conference’s letter and updated list of judicial nominees calling on senators to oppose nominees who refuse to state unequivocally that Brown was correctly decided.

Sarah Pitlyk (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri)

Also coming up for a cloture and final vote in the Senate this week is Trump’s nominee to the Eastern District of Missouri, Sarah Pitlyk. She has defended the most extreme, anti-reproductive health care laws our nation has seen, and the ideological demagoguery that she exhibits goes far beyond her outspoken opposition to Roe v. Wade. Packing the courts with people who will support his ultra-conservative agenda to roll back our civil rights, particularly reproductive rights, is a key pillar of his administration that Trump has advertised. Pitlyk embodies this as she now serves as special counsel at the Thomas More Society, where her job centers on anti-abortion activism. She has also attacked IVF and surrogacy. 

Pitlyk once clerked for now-Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh and was instrumental in vouchingfor him with conservatives, especially on health care, writing: “No other contender on President Trump’s list is on record so vigorously criticizing the [ACA].”

Pitlyk lacks the experience and fair-mindedness required to serve on our federal courts, which prompted the American Bar Association to give her a unanimously Not Qualified rating. In addition, she already has garnered bipartisan opposition, with Senator Susan Collins publicly announcing her opposition to the nomination. Senator Collins opposition is welcome, but we call on others to join her. Pitlyk cannot be trusted with a lifetime appointment.

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

Andrew Brasher (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Alabama)

On December 4, the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely hold a hearing on Trump’s nominee to an Alabama seat on the Eleventh Circuit, Andrew Brasher. Only a few months after the Senate quickly confirmed him to the District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Brasher has been nominated to a seat on the appeals court, in order to fulfill the Republicans’ agenda to further restrict our civil and human rights.

Brasher, who has a record of hostility against civil rights, especially voting rights, LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom and environmental protection, is unqualified and should not be elevated. Our courts are too often the backstop for protecting our civil rights and matter far too much to rush this process. Senators must take their responsibility to consider lifetime appointments to our courts more seriously and stop this nomination.

Read The Leadership Conference’s letter in opposition to the confirmation of Andrew Brasher when he was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Lawrence VanDyke and Patrick Bumatay (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Nevada and California)

In addition, we know that McConnell is likely to schedule final votes for many more of Trump’s lifetime nominees before the end of the year, including unqualified nominees like Lawrence VanDyke and Patrick Bumatay. VanDyke is a conservative movement lawyer who has worked throughout his career to undercut our civil and human rights, including LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom, and environmental protections. His record is disqualifying, and he lacks the temperament necessary to be a federal judge.

Bumatay is a political operative in the Trump administration, like VanDyke, whose career choices indicate that he will not be fair and independent. Bumatay also played a central role in advancing the nominations of both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh during their Supreme Court confirmation fights.

The full Senate must reject these extreme, unqualified, and unfit nominees.

Read The Leadership Conference’s letters in opposition to the confirmations of Lawrence VanDyke and Patrick Bumatay.


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