As the March 17 calendar date approaches when President Obama made his first federal judicial nomination in 2009, there is growing expectation that President Biden will soon begin filling the more than 65 judicial vacancies on the federal courts. None of these is more important than the vacancy created on the Seventh Circuit court of appeals, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, when a Reagan appointee recently took senior status.
The Seventh Circuit has been controlled by Republican appointees since 1984. At least until Trump began nominating people to the court, however, it had issued a number of decisions helping to protect the rights of workers, consumers, victims of police misconduct, and others. In 2016, President Obama nominated a Black woman then serving on the Indiana Supreme Court to the Seventh Circuit.
Under then-Majority Leader McConnell, however, the Republican Senate never moved forward on Obama’s nomination, and that seat was filled by Trump’s first Seventh Circuit nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, who went on to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump proceeded to fill four more Seventh Circuit seats, including the vacancy created by Barrett herself.
Before she left the Seventh Circuit, however, Barrett helped Trump judges on that court do significant damage to a large number of people. For example:
- Barrett and the other Trump nominees provided the deciding votes in a full court decision ruling that job applicants cannot claim that a company’s hiring practices have a discriminatory impact on older workers. As one of the dissenters pointed out, the majority ruling was effectively “closing its eyes to fifty years” of job bias law and harming older workers.
- Barrett cast a key vote to uphold a company policy to racially segregate its workplaces. The dissenting judges explained that this “deliberate racial segregation” was a return to the discredited “separate but equal” doctrine.
- Four Trump Seventh Circuit judges, including Barrett, cast key votes preventing the FTC from seeking restitution for victims of fraud, overturning a judgment of $5 million as well as past Seventh Circuit precedent. A dissenting judge wrote that “no court has ever tied the hands of a government agency the way the majority has done here.”
- Barrett wrote an opinion ruling, contrary to another federal appellate court, that people harmed by violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act did not have standing to enforce it, which was upheld by the full court, including the other three Trump judges. The dissenters pointed out that the holding would make it “much more difficult” to get justice for consumers harmed by such violations.
At present, as a result of McConnell’s delaying tactics, there is not a single person of color on the all-white Seventh Circuit. President Biden can take the first key step to remedy that, and to repair the damage done by the Trump judges on the court, by promptly nominating a fair-minded person of color for the vacant seat on this important court. On this and other federal court vacancies, President Biden must act as soon as possible.