On December 7, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley will try to ram ten judicial nominees through for committee votes, the latest example of Grassley’s unprincipled chairmanship. Among them are several extremely controversial nominees, three of whom have been nominated to circuit courts. Especially given the increasingly dangerous state of our nation’s body politic, the Senate should not be confirming Donald Trump’s nominees to lifetime positions on our nation’s courts.
In fact, Democrats should use every tool at their disposal to prevent their confirmation.
Circuit court nominees always require a significant time to consider whether they should be given a lifetime position. Yet Fifth Circuit nominees Don Willett (who would return us to the Lochner era) and James Ho (who believes there should be no campaign finance limitations) had their hearings a mere three weeks ago. In fact, every one of the nominees being voted on had their hearing in November, the month that just ended.
Also on the agenda is Steve Grasz for the Eighth Circuit, a religious right crusader deemed unqualified by a unanimous panel of the ABA’s judicial evaluations committee that concluded he would be unable to separate his personal ideology from his judicial rulings. Despite that—or more likely because of that—Republicans want him on the bench as soon as possible.
At the district court level, Tennessee’s Mark Norris is another terrible choice to be a judge—unless you want judges whose view of equality is keeping Syrian refugees out of the state, honoring the Confederacy, and nullifying local anti-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people.
As they approach the committee vote, Democrats have more and more indications that we are not in a time of “business as usual.” Here is just a partial list of the recent additions to the toxic environment we are in:
- President Trump has very clearly engaged in obstruction of justice. He even admitted it in a tweet over the weekend (which his staff quickly walked back).
- On November 29, President Trump retweeted three outrageous, inflammatory anti-Muslim videos posted by a fringe, far-right nationalist political party in England, Britain First. The videos purportedly showed Muslims attacking people and smashing a statue of the Virgin Mary. Trump’s action prompted an unusual public rebuke from the British prime minister (and celebration among English fascists).
- Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, pled guilty to lying to the FBI, an apparent deal indicating he will cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe—and that the information he can provide is extremely important.
- We learned that Mueller has subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, which provided enormous loans to Trump and his businesses. It is the only major bank that will do business with Trump—and a bank that has repeatedly been fined for Russian money-laundering.
- Senate Republicans rammed through their breathtakingly brazen tax cut for the wealthy in a mockery of regular order and of the Senate itself. It will actually raise taxes for others. They shut Democrats out of the process completely and didn’t even hold hearings.
- Grassley openly admitted why he believes his party supports eliminating the estate tax, which benefits only the wealthiest: “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing — as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”
- Grassley ditched the blue slip tradition he had followed for Obama’s judicial nominees so he could hold a hearing for David Stras, an Eighth Circuit nominee even though he did not have the approval of both home state senators.
- The Senate confirmed Greg Katsas to the critically important D.C. Circuit. That’s the court which will hear any number of cases arising from Trump’s lawless administration. How convenient that Trump picked his deputy White House counsel for the position. No wonder Katsas became the first nominee to garner a GOP “no” vote, with Louisiana Senator John Kennedy opposing confirmation.
- Nor is it surprising that Senator Kennedy announced a second “no” vote he is prepared to make, this one against Alabama district court nominee Brett Talley. This move is made even more significant because it is based on information that has come to light since Kennedy’s vote in Committee for the nominee—information on which Grassley has so far refused to allow another hearing for senators to ask Talley about. Senators learned he had hidden the fact that his spouse is chief of staff for White House Counsel Donald McGahn, creating enormous conflicts of interest were he to be confirmed. Talley had also hidden thousands of online posts he had written, even though he was required to disclose them. He defended the founder of the KKK, he called Roe v. Wade and the Miranda case indefensible, and after Sandy Hook he wrote that we are “a society of pansies and [should] man up.” This came on top of the American Bar Association judicial evaluation panel’s unanimously finding that Talley is unqualified due to his utter lack of experience.
- North Carolina district court nominee Thomas Farr’s close connections to the extreme racist Pioneer Fund were exposed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They wrote that “Americans … tend to imagine organized racism as the province of hooded Klansmen. In reality, Farr stands as a direct descendant of one of the most sophisticated segregationist projects in American history.” This comes on the heels of evidence that Farr lied to the committee about not being involved in a 1990 voter suppression scheme, where the Jesse Helms campaign (which he was lead counsel for) mailed 100,000 postcards to African American voters suggesting they were not eligible to vote and would be jailed if they tried. The Judiciary Committee had already sent Farr’s nomination to the full Senate, and Chairman Grassley (by party-line vote), has so far refused to call a new hearing where Democrats can ask him about these issues.
All these people are being nominated by a president who is bigoted, corrupt, and potentially facing criminal prosecution. He gained office with the secret assistance of one of our nation’s foreign adversaries. The nominees are being jammed through on party-line votes by a Senate that is being run in complete disregard of democratic norms.
Enough is enough.
Democrats cannot treat this like business as usual. They should do everything they possibly can to prevent Trump’s judicial nominees from being confirmed. They have tools to do this, and they should use them.