A U.S. district court judge in Texas made a ruling, and half the nation shuddered. This time the ruling is from Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk and concerns the abortion drug Mifepristone, but it’s just one example of the core problem: We need better federal judges.
During the Trump administration, Republicans made it a priority to take over the courts. More than 230 judges on district courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court were confirmed, many issuing disastrous rulings on cases from health care to LGBTQ rights. Several were deemed “not qualified” by the American Bar Association when their nominations were announced.
Let’s look at the problems bad judges cause, how we’re fighting to get fair-minded judges confirmed, and what you can do to help.
Bad Judges Have Devastating Consequences
This isn’t the first time Judge Kacsmaryk has made headlines because of one of his decisions. He’s also delivered rulings to force the continuation of harsh Trump-era immigration policies, limit federal funding for birth control, and allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care. And he’s far from alone.
Trump Fifth Circuit judge Kurt Engelhardt granted qualified immunity to police officers who threw a Black man to the ground and beat him.
Trump Fourth Circuit judges Julius Richardson, Marvin Quattlebaum, and Allison Rushing wrote that constitutional limits on police stopping people without reasonable suspicion should not apply in so-called “high crime areas.”
Then-Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett refused to rehear a three-judge panel decision allowing a company to segregate employees by assigning members of different races to different stores.
Trump-appointed judges have also ruled on cases undermining COVID-19 vaccine requirements, blocking Health and Human Services guidance on emergency abortion care, and denying discrimination protections to LGBTQ students and workers.
They’re Part of a Coordinated Plan
Trump outsourced picking judicial nominees like Kacsmaryk and others to the far-right Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation. They selected ideologues who they could count on to bend the law in the Far Right’s favor, then Senate Republicans got them confirmed not in spite of their disturbing records, but because of them.
And since Judge Kacsmaryk is the only federal judge stationed in Amarillo, Texas, when far-right activists want to get a particular case heard before a judge they can safely assume will be friendly to their cause, they file in Amarillo. Judge Kacsmaryk hears the case, and the decision is all but preordained.
Good Judges Can Make a Powerful Difference
In contrast, when fair-minded judges are confirmed, the results can be inspiring. For instance, consumers in Georgia injured by defective consumer products had their right to sue protected by Judge Sarah Geraghty. Judge Bridget Brennan upheld the right of homeowners in Ohio to sue over unfair debt collection practices. In Colorado, Judge Regina Rodriguez upheld a longstanding gun safety law barring people who have been convicted of felonies from possessing firearms. These are just a few examples of the impact fair-minded judges can have, and they highlight why it’s so important to push for confirmation of President Biden’s nominees, even when obstructionists get in the way.
Obstruction is Preventing Confirmation of Fair-Minded Judges
So far, the Senate has confirmed 119 judges nominated by President Biden, and that’s a fantastic start. Unfortunately, more fair-minded judges are still waiting on the Senate to act. One of the hurdles they’re facing is a custom called a blue slip. We’ve written about blue slips before. Essentially, they’re a way of getting input from the nominee’s home state senators about whether they approve of the nominee. However, they can stall a nominee if they’re used as a reason to prevent the Senate from ever considering the nomination.
Right now, vacancies on district courts in a number of red states are awaiting nominations because those states’ senators aren’t working in good faith with the White House. It’s by no means the only issue facing the federal confirmation process, but it’s one we can address.
Process Reform Gives Good Judges a Better Chance at Confirmation
Changing the blue slip process is possible. Senate leadership has the power to reform the practice and process nominees even when blue slips haven’t been returned. It’s a bold move which has been made necessary by the intentional obstruction that’s leaving dozens of vacancies on our federal courts. This action may not address current activist judges, but it can fill vacancies – especially in red states – to prevent more Matthew Kacsmaryks from being placed in such powerful positions.
You Can Help Get Fair-Minded Judges on Federal Courts
Contact your senators and tell them to confirm fair-minded judges. Three exceptional judges who are awaiting confirmation right now are Julie Rikelman, Nancy Abudu, and Rachel Bloomekatz. Use their names. Get loud. Keep the pressure on the Senate to act.
You can also sign our petition to reform the blue slip process. We’re taking action around this issue, and we need your voice to help amplify the call for change.
Federal judgeships are too important to leave unfilled due to partisan obstructionism. We need better from our senators because we deserve better federal judges.