McConnell Prioritizes Judges Over the Pandemic Response

Mitch McConnell Prioritizes Judges Over the Pandemic Response
Instead of focusing on the pandemic response, Mitch McConnell is prioritizing his “pre-existing partisan wish-list” to install more unqualified and biased nominees who jeopardize our civil rights and protections. (U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr)

The House-passed COVID-19 relief package—known as the HEROES Act—answers the urgent call of civil rights groups to lift and protect the hardest hit communities and our democratic institutions as this pandemic continues to wreak havoc on economic security, health, families and lives.

It is now up to the Senate to act.

Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham are ignoring the calls to focus on the real needs of this country because they have not “yet felt the urgency of acting immediately.” Instead, they have prioritized Trump and McConnell’s “pre-existing partisan wish-list” to install more unqualified and biased nominees who jeopardize our civil rights and protections.

McConnell reconvened the Senate amid the pandemic to immediately advance judicial nominees like his long-time friend Justin Walker—nominated to a seat that does not even become vacant until September on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

And this week, McConnell has lined up floor votes on four district court nominees, while Graham has scheduled a Judiciary Committee mark up for Justin Walker and hearing for Cory Wilson—who is nominated to a Mississippi seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

McConnell and Graham are playing political games that could leave every person in America more vulnerable to the aftermath of this pandemic by stripping us of our medical care and hard-fought rights for decades to come. Donald Trump has even promised to veto a bill that would include such protections.

With the Trump administration nearing 200 lifetime judicial confirmations, McConnell and Graham’s personal obsession to remake the federal judiciary in Trump’s image is clearly more important to them than providing relief to those most impacted by this pandemic.

Stephen Schwartz (U.S. Court of Federal Claims)

The Judiciary Committee voted last week to advance the nomination of Stephen Schwartz to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Despite being nominated in 2017, Schwartz only recently revealed his college writings that make offensive claims justifying inequality as “a natural aspect of the human condition” and calls government spending on Social Security, welfare, and medical insurance “harmful” and not “a worthwhile goal for the government to undertake.” 

Mitch McConnell Prioritizes Judges Over the Pandemic Response
Stephen Schwartz has dedicated his legal career to attacking voting rights, LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom, immigrant justice and environmental protections. (Alliance for Justice)

Schwartz is the latest example in an extensive list of conservative ideologues nominated to the federal bench as a vehicle to achieve the administration’s goal of gutting life-saving protections and social safety net programs.

While Schwartz’s nomination flew under the radar after the exposé on his college writings demonstrating that he holds disturbing, deeply held beliefs, we need to pay particular attention to this nomination given the Trump administration’s attempt to use the pandemic as an excuse to further dismantle the social safety net. 

Schwartz has also dedicated his entire legal career to attacking voting rights, LGBTQ equality, reproductive freedom, immigrant justice and environmental protections.

Cory Wilson (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit)

On Wednesday, May 20, the Judiciary Committee will hold the long-awaited hearing on Cory Wilson’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Mitch McConnell Prioritizes Judges Over the Pandemic Response
Ultraconservative Cory Wilson is opposed to marriage equality and the expansion of voting rights and access to health care, calling “gay marriage … a pander to liberal interest groups.” (Mississippi House of Representatives)

Trump nominated Wilson for this seat after the ultra-conservative wing in the Senate forced the withdrawal of Halil ‘Sul’ Ozerden’s nomination to the same seat for dismissing a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act—despite going out of his way and even joining the Federalist Society to prove his zealous loyalty to conservative political causes.

Wilson clearly meets this conservative “political litmus test”—he called the ACA “freedom-infringing,” “perverse” and “illegitimate.” It is painfully hypocritical that while supporting anti-health care nominees like Wilson, some senators are now pointing people in need of health care access to the very protections of that key health care law.

In addition to his harmful views on health care access, Wilson has expressed knee-jerk support for discriminatory photo ID laws and close-minded contempt for those who disagree with him on the merits of such laws.


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Wilson said “gay marriage is a pander to liberal interest groups” and has supported what many consider the nation’s most restrictive anti-LGBTQ law, which would allow people to refuse service to married same-sex couples, people who have sex outside of marriage, and transgender people. He has also supported some of the most restrictive abortion ban bills. Wilson’s track record also includes potshots at Democrats, in particular, saying “an intellectually honest Democrat” was a “rare sighted” and an “exotic creature.” And he has engaged in malicious ad hominem attacks on prominent Democrats such as President Obama.

Wilson fits the Republican bill—a judge whose robe cannot disguise his biases.

Justin Walker (U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit)

With a mark up noticed for Thursday, Justin Walker’s nomination to the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit continues to advance quickly. Walker’s nomination is notable for many reasons, but McConnell’s push to immediately consider him stands out as a triumph of nepotism over neutrality given that this judgeship does not even become vacant until September.

Mitch McConnell Prioritizes Judges Over the Pandemic Response
Justin Walker, a former Kavanaugh law clerk (seen here with McConnell) lauded his former boss for writing the “roadmap” to repeal the ACA in court. (courtesy of McConnell’s office)

McConnell made headlines for recessing the Senate in the middle of COVID-19 legislative negotiations so that he could travel to Kentucky to attend his protégé’s ceremonial district court investiture with his other patron, Justice Kavanaugh. And when McConnell ordered the Senate back to the Capitol, his first order of business was to focus on rewarding this anti-health care nominee with an appointment to this important circuit court.

Walker, a former Kavanaugh law clerk, lauded his former boss for writing the “roadmap” to repeal the ACA in court. Walker further disparaged the ACA at his investiture, where he said that the “worst words” he ever heard from Justice Kennedy (for whom he also clerked) were: “The Chief Justice thinks this might be a tax,” a reference to the 2012 Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice Roberts cast the deciding vote to uphold the ACA on the grounds that the penalty imposed by the individual mandate constituted a tax. Walker has called this Supreme Court decision “indefensible” and “catastrophic.”

The Senate should not be spending their valuable time rewarding anti-health care judicial nominees in the middle of this public health crisis.

Mitch McConnell Prioritizes Judges Over the Pandemic Response
A February 2017 Medicare for All rally in Los Angeles. (Molly Adams / Flickr)

Senate leadership should take up serious business to help the people devastated by this pandemic. Instead, McConnell is stonewalling it to accelerate his pet project to remake the courts in Trump’s image. 

McConnell’s refusal to consider and move a COVID-19 relief package with any sense of urgency is irresponsible. He clearly does not answer to the American people who support a COVID-19 relief package or an investigation into Trump’s COVID-19 response. Instead, McConnell and his entire caucus are an accomplice party with no principles that will unabashedly go to extreme lengths to achieve their political ends to install extremist judges.

Schwartz, Wilson and Walker stand for exactly what that Republican agenda represents: an attempt to execute an extraordinary power grab to effectuate their long-term strategy to further restrict our civil and human rights.


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About

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