People For the American Way

Trump Judges’ Rulings Are Dangerous for People of Color

News and Analysis
Trump Judges’ Rulings Are Dangerous for People of Color

Nearly three years into Donald Trump’s presidential term, it’s clear that his judicial nominations and confirmations are a key part of his agenda to undo decades of social progress that have expanded our collective rights, protections, opportunities and ability to thrive. Right now, nearly one out of four federal appellate judges is a Trump appointee.

Trump judges are overwhelmingly white, male judges. Together, they represent the least racially and ethnically diverse group of any president’s judicial appointees in the last 30 years. And a number of them hold views so narrow-minded that they’ve even refused to affirm that Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided.

Trump appointees’ rulings on cases that relate to racial discrimination and inequity demonstrate that we can’t trust them to make fair decisions that offset the discrimination that people of color like me experience every day. And especially when these judges’ appointments last for life, their rulings warrant our familiarity and close attention.

PFAW has tracked Trump judges’ rulings on highlighted cases in our Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears blog series. And our new Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears tool makes it easier than ever to connect those rulings to the impact their decisions* have on our rights and protections.

Among Trump judges’ damaging rulings you can find using our tool is a Fifth Circuit case on housing discrimination and housing vouchers (also known as Section 8). The plaintiff in the case, a fair housing nonprofit in Dallas, TX that assists Black housing voucher recipients with finding housing in predominantly white, “high opportunity areas” of the city, sued an apartment management company, claiming disparate impact and disparate treatment for the company’s refusal to accept Section 8 in properties located in majority white areas.

This practice perpetuates inequality and racial segregation for communities of color – but in April 2019, Trump judge Kurt Engelhardt ruled otherwise, claiming that the management company’s refusal to accept Section 8 in majority white areas doesn’t violate the Fair Housing Act’s ban on discrimination in housing. In July, all five Trump judges – Judges James Ho, Don Willett, Kyle Duncan, Kurt Engelhardt, and Andrew Oldham – denied rehearing the case, a decision so extreme that even a George W. Bush appointee dissented, noting that the holding “moves us backwards on the pathway to equality and integration.”

In another Fifth Circuit case, Judges Ho, Engelhardt and Oldham argued that two deputy sheriffs in Kaufman County, TX, who fatally shot an unarmed Black man, shouldn’t be held accountable in court for his death. The officers wrongfully identified the victim, whose family filed a suit against the sheriffs for exerting excessive force, as an armed individual who was destroying mailboxes and creating panic in a residential neighborhood.

And on the Eleventh Circuit, votes from Judges Kevin Newsom, Elizabeth Branch, and Britt Grant in an employment discrimination case created new challenges for employers who seek justice in our courts for the racially-motivated discrimination they experienced in their workplaces. The dissent in that case opined that the new standard established by Newsom, Branch and Grant, which created new requirements to factually prove their discrimination claims, “drops an anvil” on the side of employers in such cases.

The tool also includes Trump’s two Supreme Court appointees, who have issued similarly damaging rulings that have a dangerous impact on people of color. In June 2018, Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote to uphold Ohio’s purge of more than 100,000 voters from its rolls, a tactic that Republicans have long employed to suppress the votes of Black and brown people. Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh also ruled that partisan gerrymandering can’t be challenged under the Constitution – even when their goal is to explicitly rob us of our power in the voting booth. A dissent from Gorsuch and Kavanaugh in July 2019 would have given the green light to the Trump administration to add a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

These are just a few of far too many examples of Trump judges’ damaging impact on people of color. And that pattern will only continue unless we do our part to stop it. Learning the facts and spreading the word about what they’re doing to our rights is a good first step. And come November 2020, we need to remember that we have the power to hold Trump – and the Republican senators who voted to confirm these terrible judges – accountable at the ballot box.

*The Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears blog series and tool focus on divided decisions involving Trump justices and appeals court judges – decisions in which other judges, often including conservative Bush and Reagan appointees, have dissented from harmful rulings written or joined by Trump judges, or where Trump judges have dissented to try to push the law further to the right. We include cases in specific issue areas, but generally do not include unanimous decisions or cases outside these issue areas, or cases on specialized issues such as patents, trademarks, or (as of Jan. 2020), the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.