Watching the Courts During the Trump Impeachment

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham kicked off 2020 right where he left off: by advancing to the Senate floor more extreme, anti-civil rights nominees for lifetime federal judgeships.

Andrew Brasher, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, has devoted his career to restricting voting rights, LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom, environmental protections and a fair and accurate census, among other critical civil and human rights. Hence, Brasher has drawn widespread opposition by organizations, including those in the Eleventh Circuit, who doubt his ability to check his deeply held views at the courthouse door should he be elevated to the Eleventh Circuit—as is required for lifetime judges. Yet, on January 16, his nomination advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and now sits before the full Senate.

Stephen Vaden, nominated to the U.S. Court of International Trade, is another conservative ideologue who has similarly dedicated his career to defending some of the most reprehensible laws aimed at restricting a fundamental right in our democracy: the vote. This includes North Carolina’s monster voter suppression law. His nomination is now awaiting consideration by the full Senate as well.

Cory Wilson, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, has also expressed reflexive support for discriminatory voting laws, as well as hostility to LGBTQ equality and the Affordable Care Act. His Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was on January 8. 

(Tim Sackton / Creative Commons)

The Trump administration and Senate Republicans have almost solely focused on reshaping the federal judiciary as a central component of their assault on civil rights. In an effort to curtail our civil and human rights for decades to come, they are going to great lengths to stack our courts with lifetime nominees who they believe will carry out their agenda on the bench.

All of this comes at a time when President Trump remains under the cloud of impeachment. This past December, the House of Representatives approved Articles of Impeachment declaring that the president of the United States abused the powers of his office by soliciting a foreign government to interfere with the 2020 elections and obstructed Congress’ efforts to investigate. With the Senate trial already underway, senators must take their Constitutional oath to render ‘impartial justice’ seriously and conduct a full and fair trial into these grave charges.

It would be a dire mistake for senators to make any progress on an impeached president’s nominations for lifetime positions.

Simply put: A president who is under the cloud of impeachment for abusing the power of his office and assaulting the legitimacy of our elections cannot be trusted to appoint judges who hold the duty of preserving and protecting our most fundamental rights, including our elections and the right to vote.

For these very reasons, many civil rights organizations, including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called for a halt on all judicial nominations at this extraordinary time in American history. Senator Kamala Harris also demanded that the Senate stop processing lifetime nominations.

We commend Senators Patrick Leahy, Chris Coons, Richard Blumenthal and Mazie Hirono for echoing this call as well, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham for stating that the committee will not conduct business on nominations during the impeachment trial.

We must keep in mind that Trump’s court takeover has only hit a speedbump. The Trump administration and Senate Republicans’ push to confirm the abovementioned nominees to start the year further exposes their agenda, and we anticipate that the effort to pack the courts will continue as soon as the impeachment trial is over.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, together with its coalition members, remain committed to making our courts fair and opposing those nominees who will not uphold and defend the civil and human rights of all of us. And we remain steadfast in the defense of all people.

About

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